Certain places call out to me for the mystery and the allure that they exude. Tasmania and the Afghanistan of fifty years ago fit that category, mainly because I did projects about them in Mrs. Gagliardi’s seventh grade geography class in 1963. More recently the Camino de Santiago caught my attention. That’s why ExperiencePlus! started bicycle tours on the Camino almost fifteen years ago. Today it is the Silk Road that grips my imagination. What was it like to travel the 5,000 miles from Beijing to Istanbul in 1400? What is it like today?
So it is no surprise that Suzanne Joinson’s book caught my attention. And no, you will discover quickly that this is not a cyclist’s guide to the Silk Road in eastern China. It is, rather, an intriguing fiction novel of travel, exploration and missionaries in the remotest regions of China in the 1920s combined with a modern detective story set in London.
Kashgar, or “Kashi” as the modern Chinese call it, is the western-most city in China and capital of the prefecture of Kashgar. The region borders the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Kashi is the last major Chinese city on the ancient and modern Silk Road with a current population of about 400,000.
The book begins on the road near Kashgar or Kashi in 1923. Joinson uses a quote from Maria Ward’s book Bicycling for Ladies, published in 1896, as an epigraph to introduce each chapter. One of my favorites is the advice on how to steer a bicycle: “Steering is a subject for serious consideration; a sharp eye, quick determination, constant care and a steady hand are needed.” All true statements.
Joinson’s story unfolds along two story lines. One in riot ravaged Kashgar in 1923 and one in modern London with alternating chapters taking the reader back and forth. By the end of the book the two fictional stories converge while Maria Ward’s voice continues to provide advice for ladies on how to succeed at cycling. One of the last quotes makes it clear: “The rule for climbing universally recommended reads, ‘Pay no attention to hills. Ride them.’” Or, as the folks at Nike would advise, “just do it.”
This is a book well worth an afternoon or evening by the fire.