The dramatic opening of Suzanne Joinson’s thrilling and densely plotted first novel offers only a suggestion of the tumult to come…. Joinson, who has herself traveled widely on behalf of the British council, controls her narrative with skill: this is an impressive debut, its prose as lucid and deep as a mountain lake. Joinson also has a gift for evoking finely calibrated shifts of feeling… [she] illuminates her narrative with a playfulness that borders on the Gothic…. Through Frieda and Eva and their companions, Joinson explores notions of freedom, rootlessness, dislocation – any writer’s reliable arsenal. But she makes these themes her own.
Sara Wheeler - New York Times Book Review
It takes less than a page for Suzanne Joinson to seize your attention…. there is so much here that is wonderful: the author’s crisp, uncluttered story-telling, her graceful prose, and her ability to inhabit the character of a young woman in 1924 and a contemporary young woman with equal depth and ease. It is an impressive first novel
Nan Goldberg - Boston Globe
Ms. Joinson layers her basic narrative with references to religious hypocrisy, cultural ignorance and sexual gamesmanship, throwing in for good measure Arabic ornithological mythology, bicycling tips for the novice female rider, and the dangers of cult worship. . . . Ms. Joinson succeeds in keeping us moving and takes us to places very far away before we reach the end of this immensely satisfying story.
Norman Powers - New York Journal of Books
Present and past meld into an exploration of conflicting traditions in an impressive debut that shifts smoothly between 1920s Turkestan and present-day England. In 1923, Evangeline (Eva) English accompanies her fragile sister, Lizzie, on a missionary trip to the ancient Chinese-ruled Muslim city of Kashgar under the supervision of the stern Millicent Frost, who suspects, accurately, that Eva, with her prized bicycle—a “glorious, green BSA Lady’s Roadster”—and passion for writing, is more interested in adventure than proselytizing. Surprisingly (and disappointingly), Eva’s story is lacking in cycling and exciting exploits. In the present day, well-traveled but stuffy researcher Frieda Blakeman is startled by the appearance of both a letter deeming her the next-of-kin of a recently deceased woman, and Tayeb, an illegal Yemeni immigrant who takes refuge outside her London apartment. Though Frieda and Tayeb’s growing bond and the unfolding revelations of the modern story are more compelling than Eva’s frustratingly limited experiences and the unpleasantly stereotyped Millicent, Joinson has created in Frieda’s unusual history and the parallel struggles of Tayeb and Eva as outsiders and observers an intriguing window into the difficulties of those who attempt to reach across cultural barriers.
(Starred review.) "I may as well start with the bones," observes Eva, who in 1923 is traveling with sister Lizzie and officious Miss Millicent Frost to the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, where they will serve as missionaries. Lizzie truly has a calling, but Eva is quite literally along for the ride; she's got her bicycle and is planning to write a travelog. The bones, "scalded, sun-bleached, like tiny flutes," lead them to a young woman in the throes of childbirth, whose subsequent death results in their house arrest by hostile Moslem locals considering charges of murder. Meanwhile, in contemporary London, the somewhat disaffected Frieda, raised by commune-dwelling parents, befriends a gentle Yemeni refugee she's found sleeping on her doorstep and puzzles out why she has inherited the contents of a flat whose occupant she doesn't know. Refreshingly, the two stories are equally absorbing (not always the case), and their connection comes as both surprising and obvious. Verdict: Beautifully written in language too taut, piercing, and smartly observed to be called lyrical, this atmospheric first novel immediately engages, nicely reminding us that odd twists of fate sometimes aren't that odd. Highly recommended. —Barbara Hoffert
This complex and involving historical novel examines the idea of home, the consequences of exile, the connection between mother and daughter, and the power dynamics of sexual relationships.
Eva has accompanied her younger sister Lizzie, a talented photographer, and Lizzie's domineering religious mentor Millicent to Asia in 1923 without missionary zeal but in search of adventure. Traveling by bicycle, Eva keeps a notebook she hopes to turn into a book about the journey.... Shift to [present day] London and Frieda, a think-tank specialist on Islamic youth.... Slowly Frieda and Eva's connections are revealed. Each struggles to find her voice and independence despite social pressures. Each must define love for herself, even if it defies convention.... As often happens in novels that travel between past and present, the past sparkles while the present pales.
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