by Suzanne Joinson, Bloomsbury USA, May, 2012 ... good story, great atmosphere, likeable characters and interesting plot
This story of two sisters who go off in missionary service to Kashgar (western China on the Silk Road) is set in 1923. One sister Elizabeth has a strong religious calling fostered by her mentor Millicent an older worldly woman. The second sister and story narrator Evangeline has very different motives. Eva desires to leave England and have adventures. She has been given a book contract to relate her experiences cycling in the Far East (hence the title). Accompanied by Millicent the ladies set off on their adventures and adventures they do have! First off, they assist a pregnant mother who delivers a baby girl on the roadside and promptly dies. The missionaries take the newborn along with them.They arrive in Kashgar to a very unwelcoming crowd of Moslems, Chinese, Turkmen and others. Millicent and Elizabeth throw themselves passionately into attempting to convert the locals to Christianity; Evangeline can see the fruitlessness and even danger in their work but is powerless to stop this force.Without giving too much away let’s just say things go downhill from there.
In a present day story that is intertwined the author introduces Frieda, an English woman who has worked in the Moslem world for a think tank trying to sort out the problems in the communication between Christians and Moslems. Frieda is weary of her rootless, peripatetic life and her needy lover Nathaniel when she meets Tayeb a Yemeni immigrant on the lam from the authorities. At the same time she is notified that she is the sole heir to a woman that she has never heard of. Frieda and Tayeb develop a supportive relationship and assist each other in coping with mysteries and changes in their lives.
In the last third of the book the two narratives come together in a clever way. I liked this story, the 1923 parts better than the present day narrative. The exotic and strange life style and customs of Kashgar were fascinating. I also appreciated the elements of true history interspersed into the story - rebellions, uprisings and battles. I liked the writing style; it was straightforward and evocative of the time and place without being overly descriptive. I thought that most of the characters were well developed with clear motivations; I did struggle with the motivations of Millicent.
So for me this was good story, well written with great atmosphere, likeable characters and an interesting plot.I read an advanced copy of this novel provided by the publisher.