* Prices may differ from that shown
Without the least intention of making any purchase, I sauntered across making offers I knew wouldn't be sanely accepted, while feigning eagerness to accept any reasonable proposition having already decided to reject all his offers. Unluckily the salesman* accepted. I was trapped. All in the name of the first 'boney karde, saab'+. And at 20 bucks (a quarter pound), it was difficult to resist The shepherd .
While I prefer to read stories in solitude, loneliness is something else - the thought of which makes me shudder . There's something positively refreshing about solitude while loneliness is felt best under pressure or extreme circumstances - you end up exhausted. Of course, its you, who wants solitude to avoid breakdowns . But that's a general term - having some time for yourself. In contrast, you are extremely lonely when you have too much time to yourself, and you have a general inclination to shrug it off. The key differentiator between solitude and loneliness is - you seek solitude while you avoid loneliness.
Frederick Forsyth is an exceptionally complete writer, not just because he writes factual stuff based on his research, but the way complicated plotlines are woven in his stories. He has written on a multitude of topics, & well known as the author of political suspense drama. However, one of his lesser known works is the shepherd, which does not fit any category as described, but displays only his story telling skills.
The entire book focuses on a simple plot and presented in a straight forward manner with more focus on the details. On closer observation, half the book is on the plane itself! It's not a short story and yet umpteen short versions of it have already found their way - including school text books. It clearly made me realize the difference between solitude and loneliness.
The Story - Christmas time 1957. An RAF pilot is on his way home from the RAF base in Germany. As he wishes the Air Traffic Controller G'night and a sweet Christmas, he little realizes what is slated for him.
The description of the De Havilland aircraft is excellent, and you immediately understand without having been seated in the plane - how to fly it! In the middle of the North sea, the instruments fail one by one. First the instruments fail one by one and then the electrical system too. Now there are two options before him.
One is certain death in the icy Northern sea. The other is to make his way and try contacting the ATCs in immediate vicinity. He receives static mostly.
What could be the worst that could happen to you? Death. Loneliness at such times of confronting death must be frustrating, and yet, the thought of certain death - comforting. Awaiting death is more gruesome than death itself.
In terrifying circumstances, does it pay to imagine the worst? And then avoid it without panicking? You might end up winning looking for alternatives in a worst case scenario. You know that the situation can be the worst that could happen and any alternative must certainly be better. The best and the worst are two extremes which require an extraordinary mind, oodles of courage and talent or just pure rotten luck. The chance that you hit the extremes at any given stage of life is one in a million. There are more chances that the solution to a complex problem in your life lies in front of you. When you realize how to make the best of a worse situation, you are sure to achieve what you have always aspired for.
At this point, I must introduce to you - the only other lead character in the story. A shepherd is one who tends his flock. A shepherd is also a nickname for aircraft which guide aircraft in trouble to safe destinations. The pilot comes across one such shepherd who wins his trust and guides him to safety.
As the pilot glides down the runway, his life flashes by as this is the deciding factor to God's gift of life and death, his last visitor. When he does land, the next thing which occurs to you - Will the pilot meet up with the shepherd to thank him?
Thoughts arise. What if ... the shepherd hadn't been present? The result is obvious, but if the pilot had made his way back, it would have been readable, but without an inciting end. A pilot who tottered home in his broken down aircraft is not exactly a good read.
By ending, I refer to - when the pilot discovers the identity of the shepherd. I believe you have already read it at some point or the other. But I will not reveal it. That would be a big disappointment to FF fans yet to read it. Besides, the epilogue - post landing, is the other half of the story. But yeah, think of a few impressionable Irish stories and you might be lucky enough to register the ending. I will lay my money on it that the writer has been inspired by numerous such, and he did stick to tradition by giving us a new modern day 'ballad' on similar lines. Besides, it's in his roots and very visible by the roles, Irish characters get in his novels.
An oft repeated story can sometimes make you look for loopholes. But on repeated reading, I am unable to find many since the author has, as in all his books, done his research well.
66 mins of flight time. It took me more than that to read it...
As posted at one of my other review forums.
Terms used -
*The salesman here was a second hand book seller on the street
+Boney Karde Saab - Hindi - Means, please make my first sale. The first sale need not necessarily mean the first sale of the day. The first sale in the evening takes place right after the salesman has done his prayers or has lit the lamp/incense sticks. Usually, salesmen do not give or negotiate any discounts at this time as this is the first sale, but it appears there were no takers for the book, and so I got it cheap.
On Christmas Eve 1957, alone in the cockpit of his Vampire, an RAF pilot is returning from Germany to Lakenheath on leave - 66 minutes of trouble-free, routine flying. Then, out over the North Sea, the fog begins to close in, radio contact ceases, and the compass goes haywire.