This is a rich and heavy book, full of inner contemplation and sometimes doubts by the main characters. Suzanne Joinson shows the complexities of human interactions simply through the eyes of two women (Eva & Frieda) who exist decades apart. Each has her own clash with foreign cultures in different ways, and each are changed forever by those clashes. This book started off intense with the birth of a baby, but then mellowed out considerably as the reader gained more info on the characters and their surroundings. Indeed, I was a little concerned for a bit as to whether or not the book would pick up again, but it did, and I am glad I stuck with it. I enjoyed how Joinson showed the unrealistic expectations of the English ladies in the early 1900s Kashgar with their English meals three times a day, etc. At first there was a fair amount of religious talk from Millicent and Lizzie, but this became balanced by Eva’s hesitancy to shove religious believes and culture on the local people.
The missionary stuff is also balanced by modern-day Frieda, who is English but not Caucasian nor particularly religious. Her separated parents have had a variety of believes throughout Frieda’s childhood. Indeed, there was a scene with a water wand that was pretty amusing. At a later point in the story, Frieda feels she must find her mother, who left her and her father when Frieda was young, to have some of her questions answered. Her father helps her track her mother to a commune, where we learn not only a few interesting philosophical believes, but also key pieces to the story. Frieda’s interactions with Tayeb are sometimes awkward but also on a much more equal footing than the high & mighty Millicent to the unwashed masses of Kashgar. The difference between these sets of interactions cleverly shows how globalization has done much to break down cultural barriers.
Now you have heard all the things I enjoyed about this book. There was really just two things that didn’t click for me, one of which is that lull in the story I already mentioned. The second thing is there are several minor characters and one key secondary character there are gay and with the exception of one of those characters, all are portrayed in a bad light. Indeed, one outright takes advantage of another person, two others beat the snot out of another character, and a fourth is rather uncaring and a bit of snot to one of our main characters. Without the one kind-hearted gay person we find later in the book, I was starting to wonder if the author had an issue with homosexuality in general. While a very minor part of the book, I did feel it gave it a slight unbalanced quality and it detracted a bit on my personal enjoyment of the book.
Narration: Susan Duerden was excellent with all the ladies’ voices, making each one distinct. Her mail voices, especially that of Frieda’s boyfriend, were believable. Her high & mighty voice for Millicent was perfect and her accents (British, Italian, Arabic) were well done.