“He could name this brain silence, one of the basic survival reactions to threat, the one that comes after fight and flight, there to protect the prey from the hunter by freezing all movement. He could see the explanation on the page, exactly as it had been when he had first read it, an oil smudge from someone else’s food beside it in the margin.”
KATE is a woman who chooses to work in Pakistan. She creates a second family for herself, far from the cherished warmth of her parents in rural Suffolk, their surrounding soft landscape in stark contrast to the raw land and humanscape of a remote corner of the northwest Himalayas. Kate then disappears and the worlds of genteel English countryside and harsh Gilgit collide in the search for a lost aid worker.
“It’s to keep the devil away, a sort of vaccination against disaster and hell,’ she said. Every time she said something like that, he felt like the new boy all over again. It was not because of what she said, but that she had to say it at all, still explaining the way things were.”
Justine Hardy has been a journalist for twenty-seven years, many of those spent covering South Asia. She is the author of six books ranging in subject from war to Hindi film: The Ochre Border, 1995, was about the reopening of the Tibetan frontier-lands. Her second, Scoop-Wallah, 1999, was the story of her time as a journalist on an Indian newspaper in Delhi. It was short-listed for the Thomas Cook/Daily Telegraph Travel Book Award 2000 and serialised on BBC Radio 4. Goat: A Story of Kashmir and Notting Hill, 2000, was an inside look at life in Kashmir and Notting Hill, a war zone and a white hot corner of London drawn together by the latter’s obsession with the fine pashmina weave of the Kashmir Valley. This was also serialised on BBC Radio 4. Bollywood Boy, 2002, was an international bestseller in which the Hindi film industry was the vehicle for a closer look at the obsession with fame as it crept West to East, and the darker side of an industry pumping out high-octane escapism for an audience of over a billion. The Wonder House, 2005, is a novel set in Kashmir against the background of the conflict, and based on Justine’s experience of frontline coverage, time spent in militant training camps, and amongst the extremists. It was short-listed for the Authors’ Club best first novel in 2006. In the Valley of Mist, 2009, a return to non-fiction and the subject of Kashmir, charts the first twenty years of the conflict there through the prism of Kashmiri family life. It was also broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week, and it was Runner-Up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2010. Justine’s books have been translated into a wide range of languages, from Hindi and Serbian.
In 2008, Justine founded Healing Kashmir, an integrated mental health project addressing the debilitating mental health situation in the region. This project is now expanding rapidly, with a health centre, outreach programmes, a suicide helpline, and a leadership programme. In addition to running the project in Kashmir, she lectures regularly in the UK, US and India. Recent lectures have included The Oslo Freedom Forum, New York University (Gallatin School), Tufts University (Institute of Global Leadership) and The Royal Geographical Society. Justine has been studying Eastern philosophy, yoga, and conflict trauma all through her adult life. She teaches yoga and philosophy in the UK and in India.
My thoughts: this was a really interesting book about Kate, an international aid worker in Pakistan, and her parents in Suffolk, England. It moves back and forth through Kate’s life, from her birth to the present. When she’s abducted and no one knows where to find her, Tom and Molly, her parents, feel lost and afraid, unable to help or understand. Kate must survive alone, using the information from a hostage training day she went on and her own will to survive.
As readers we learn a lot about a young Kate, about her family and her best friend Farah, whose family fled Persia (now Iran) after the fall of the Shah. We meet family friends, and a new one of Molly’s. It’s clear that Kate is loved at home and indeed in Pakistan, especially by Noor, the daughter of the mission’s cook, who idolises Kate and indeed the last section of the book is hers.
I liked the doctor and police inspector, who are old friends, verbally sparring in the interview room. I felt for Molly and Tom, I can’t imagine how hard and terrifying this would be, to know your child (even if they’re an adult) is in danger and you can’t do anything. Kate keeps herself going by imagining her parents there with her, willing her on, and the moment when they’re reunited and she’s not sure for a second whether they’re real is very powerful.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.