Two things drew me to this book. First, the cover: I love it. I don’t know why; something about it just calls to me. And second, the first sentence made me hopeful for something … exciting.
And the premise is intriguing: it’s 1923, and Evangeline English and her sister, Lizzie, are traveling the world with an evangelical missionary. Specifically, they are headed to 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 distant place. From the start, however, nothing goes right. They try to help a girl give birth, but the mother ends up dying, and the women are placed under house arrest and given charge of the baby. And that’s only the beginning. There’s a lot of resistance to their missionary message, and Millicent is overbearing; she and Evangeline don’t get along.
There’s a parallel story, as well: it’s modern-day London, and Frieda, the daughter of non-traditional parents and a 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 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 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, but together it kind of seems forced. I wanted more from each of the stories, more than I got anyway, and I feel like in combining 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 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.
Rated: Moderate for several instances of mild swearing, a lesbian sex scene, and allusion to heterosexual sex.