by Suzanne Joinson
First sentence: “I unhappily report that even Bicycling for Ladies WITH HINTS TO THE ART OF WHEELING – ADVICE TO BEGINNERS – DRESS – CARE OF THE BICYCLE – MECHANICS – TRAINING – EXERCISES, ETC. ETC. cannot assist me in this current predicament: we find ourselves in a situation.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Two things drew me to this book. First, the cover: I love it. I don’t know why (it’s not a young girl in a pretty dress, after all), but something about it just calls to me. And second, that first sentence. It’s wonderful, full of promise, of something … exciting.
And the premise sounded interesting as well: it’s 1923, and Evangeline English and her sister, Lizzie, have thrown their lot in with a evangelical missionary and are traveling to the wilds of Eastern Turkestan/Upper China. Lizzie and the missionary, Millicent, are there to convert people; Evangeline is there to write a book about cycling in this wild, unknown (at least to the English) place. It doesn’t go well, to say the least. They try to help a girl give birth, but the mother ends up dying, and they are placed under house arrest and given charge of the baby. From there, things only go down hill. There’s a lot of resistance to their missionary message, and Millicent is overbearing; she and Evangeline don’t get along.
However, that’s not the only story: it’s modern day London, and Frieda, the daughter of hippy parents and world traveler — is in a dead-end relationship with a married man. She’s back in town after a trip to Cairo, when two unusual things happen: one, she gets a letter telling her that she is the next-of-kin for an Irene Guy, whom she’s never even heard of; and a Yemeni man, Tayeb, parks himself outside of her door. Both of these things will change her life.
I spent a good portion of the book trying to figure out how these two stories were connected. I should have realized how much sooner than I did; if you’re paying attention, it’s pretty obvious. Even so, each of the stories might have made a decent book on their own; together it kind of seems forced. I wanted more from each of the stories, more than I got anyway, and I feel like in combing them Joinson somehow cheated me of the full story. That, and I think the most interesting character was the elusive Ilene Guy; her story seemed like the most intriguing.
That said, it wasn’t a bad book. There’s enough in it to keep my attention throughout it all, and while I didn’t love it in the end, at least I wasn’t bored by it. And that’s something.