29 Years
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Book Nook - 23-02-2015

Monday, February 23, 2015
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to [email protected]

The Inward Journey
Rachel Joyce’s book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, is not new; it came out in 2012, but it’s the kind of book than can be shared whenever one comes across it. It was on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize and was also a bestseller for months.

 The idea is simple and profound, if somewhat over sentimental, still, the story is deeply stirring.  Harold Fry is in his sixties, retired from a brewery, and living the quiet suburban life with his bitter wife Maureen. Their marriage fell apart years ago, and both exist in a haze of stultifying routine.

Then, one day, a letter arrives out of the blue.  It is from Harold’s old colleague, QueenieHennessy, who had disappeared years ago and had no contact with him for twenty years.  Now she has written to tell him that she is dying of cancer in a hospice in distant Berwick-upon-Tweed, and just wants to say goodbye.

Harold and Queenie had formed a tentative friendship when they worked together, but nothing deep or lasting. But he is affected by the news and sets out to post a reply.  On the way, he is somehow unable to post the letter and keeps walking till he reaches a fast food joint, where the serving girl tells him that all it needs for a patient to recover from terminal illness is faith—someone must believe that they will live, and that faith can work a miracle.

Harold gets it into his head to walk to Berwick-upon-Tweed. He calls the hospice and tells the nun who answers that he is in his way on foot, and that Queenie must wait for him.  He writes to Queenie, “I am on my way. All you have to do is wait. Because I’m going to save you. I will keep walking, and you must keep living.”

Then, without adequate clothing, or proper shoes, without a map or even his cell phone, he sets out on the long 600-mile journey to the other end of the country.  He risks spending his retirement savings on this foolhardy enterprise.

The walk which is physically draining for man his age, turns out to be one that fills a void in his life that he did not even know existed. But for that letter, he would have carried on with his unhappy life, without having discovered all the beauty around, or meeting so many kind and generous people, and even some strange ones.

At some point Harold’s ‘pilgrimage’ become a media sensation, he is followed around by a bunch of people, who try to hijack his mission.  On the way, Harold divests himself of everything he was carrying and proceeds on the walk like a hobo—eating whatever was available, drinking spring water, and patching his frayed yachting shoes with duct tape.

Meanwhile, as Maureen keeps track of his journey through his phone calls and media reports—her intense loneliness changes her too. The couple has been struggling with grief and guilt over what happened to their son. But the sense of lingering sorrow is expressed by their busybody neighbour Rex, who lost his wife. “I miss her all the time. I know in my head that she has gone. the only difference is that I am getting used to the pain. It’s like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with, you forget it’s there and keep falling in. After a while, it’s still there, but you learn to walk round it.”

Finally, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is about that inner journey too, for which it is never too late to start. It’s a wonderful book, and as unputdownable as a thriller.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 384

Excerpt: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday. It was an ordinary morning in mid-April that smelled of clean washing and grass cuttings. Harold Fry sat at the breakfast table, freshly shaved, in a clean shirt and tie, with a slice of toast that he wasn’t eating. He gazed beyond the kitchen window at the clipped lawn, which was spiked in the middle by Maureen’s telescopic washing line, and trapped on all three sides by the neighbors’ stockade fencing.

“Harold!” called Maureen above the vacuum cleaner. “Post!”

He thought he might like to go out, but the only thing to do was mow the lawn and he had done that yesterday. The vacuum tumbled into silence, and his wife appeared, looking cross, with a letter. She sat opposite Harold.

Maureen was a slight woman with a cap of silver hair and a brisk walk. When they first met, nothing had pleased him more than to make her laugh. To watch her neat frame collapse into unruly happiness. “It’s for you,” she said. He didn’t know what she meant until she slid an envelope across the table, and stopped it just short of Harold’s elbow. They both looked at the letter as if they had never seen one before. It was pink. “The postmark says Berwick-upon-Tweed.”

He didn’t know anyone in Berwick. He didn’t know many people anywhere. “Maybe it’s a mistake.”

“I think not. They don’t get something like a postmark wrong.” She took toast from the rack. She liked it cold and crisp.

Harold studied the mysterious envelope. Its pink was not the color of the bathroom suite, or the matching towels and fluffed cover for the toilet seat. That was a vivid shade that made Harold feel he shouldn’t be there. But this was delicate. A Turkish Delight pink. His name and address were scribbled in ballpoint, the clumsy letters collapsing into one another as if a child had dashed them off in a hurry: Mr. H. Fry, 13 Fossebridge Road, Kingsbridge, South Hams. He didn’t recognize the handwriting.

“Well?” said Maureen, passing a knife. He held it to the corner of the envelope, and tugged it through the fold. “Careful,” she warned.

He could feel her eyes on him as he eased out the letter, and prodded back his reading glasses. The page was typed, and addressed from a place he didn’t know: St. Bernadine’s Hospice. Dear Harold, This may come to you as some surprise. His eyes ran to the bottom of the page.

“Well?” said Maureen again.

“Good lord. It’s from Queenie Hennessy.”

Maureen speared a nugget of butter with her knife and flattened it the length of her toast. “Queenie who?”

“She worked at the brewery. Years ago. Don’t you remember?”

Maureen shrugged. “I don’t see why I should. I don’t know why I’d remember someone from years ago. Could you pass the jam?”

“She was in finances. She was very good.”

“That’s the marmalade, Harold. Jam is red. If you look at things before you pick them up, you’ll find it helps.”

Harold passed her what she needed and returned to his letter. Beautifully set out, of course; nothing like the muddled writing on the envelope. Then he smiled, remembering this was how it always was with Queenie: everything she did so precise you couldn’t fault it. “She remembers you. She sends her regards.”

Maureen’s mouth pinched into a bead. “A chap on the radio was saying the French want our bread. They can’t get it sliced in France. They come over here and they buy it all up. The chap said there might be a shortage by summer.” She paused. “Harold? Is something the matter?”

He said nothing. He drew up tall with his lips parted, his face bleached. His voice, when at last it came, was small and far away. “It’s — cancer. Queenie is writing to say goodbye.” He fumbled for more words but there weren’t any. Tugging a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, Harold blew his nose.

Breach: A Cyber Thriller
The internet is becoming an inextricable part of our lives, but along with its advantages, there are many risks.  For individuals, identity theft or cyber bullying is a real problem, but for a major corporation, a hacker could create the kind of havoc that has far-reaching consequences.

Amrita Chowdhury’s latest book, Breach: A Cyber Thriller enters dark world of cyber crime, that moves at a brisk pace from India to the US to China, as millions are at stake.

A US-based pharmaceutical giant called Acel, is about to launch its new anti-cancer drug Colare. Weeks before filing for the patent, the company’s data centre in Mumbai is hacked, and the India head, Dr. Udai Vir Dhingra is blamed. In a parallel plot, there is the brilliant Raghu, who hacks the account of a rival, Madhu and she swears revenge. Eventually, the two strands come together, as Dhingra struggles to find the source of the cyber breach.

For those who are familiar with the cyber world, this is a breezy read, but Chowdhury has made sure that it appeals even to the tech-unsavvy reader, by keeping the language uncomplicated and the plot always moving in interesting directions.
Breach: A Cyber Thriller
by Amrita Chowdhury
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 352

Raghu opened the inner zippered compartment of his backpack, and took out Jiggs’s pendrive. With the mildest excitement, he leaned forward and penetrated the computer of the curly-haired geek, the sole other person sitting in the room, on terminal 24. Then using the host terminal as a base, he opened the website for Desi Rhythm.

Desi Rhythm’s hottest new starlet, Anya, was releasing a new music video titled Anya Aaaaahhh. Its ten-second promos on MTV revealed a sultry-looking Anya, her eyes laden with kohl, two feet of black lace and not much else, grooving and gyrating in a breathy croon. His entire class in junior college, the boys, had been salivating at this promo clip ever since he had shown it to them. He had tried to download it a few times. And failed. When Jiggs had mentioned a patch, he had felt maybe a solution could be found.

It was that pendrive that Raghu inserted into the computer. It had a clever little algorithm, which rode upon the query form on the Desi Rhythm site. As Raghu entered his inputs and the host website started processing the query, the algorithm mutated and injected itself into the website, tunnelling its way to the protected area which stored the video.

Raghu pursed his lips as the download began. It was amazing how most sites despite all the heavy duty firewalls they put in, left some loose opening. A cross-site script or an injection flaw, which a malicious code could detect and break into.

He waited for the download to complete, then logged off. He looked sideways at the lost student on the faraway terminal, who hadn’t even realized that his computer had been compromised.

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