Excerpt from The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Far Field

by Madhuri Vijay

The Far Field by Madhuri  Vijay X
The Far Field by Madhuri  Vijay
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2019, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 1, 2019, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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The Far Field

I am thirty years old and that is nothing.

I know what this sounds like, and I hesitate to begin with something so obvious, but let me say it anyway, at the risk of sounding naive. And let it stand alongside this: six years ago, a man I knew vanished from his home in the mountains. He vanished in part because of me, because of certain things I said, but also things I did not have, until now, the courage to say. So, you see, there is nothing to be gained by pretending to a wisdom I do not possess. What I am, what I was, and what I have done' - all of these will become clear soon enough.

This country, already ancient when I was born in 1982, has changed every instant I've been alive. Titanic events have ripped it apart year after year, each time rearranging it along slightly different seams and I have been touched by none of it: prime ministers assassinated, peasant-guerrillas waging war in emerald jungles, fields cracking under the iron heel of a drought, nuclear bombs cratering the wide desert floor, lethal gases blasting from pipes and into ten thousand lungs, mobs crashing against mobs and always coming away bloody. Consider this: even now, at this very moment, there are people huddled in a room somewhere, waiting to die. This is what I have told myself for the last six years, each time I have had the urge to speak. It will make no difference in the end.

But lately the urge has turned into something else, something with sharper edges, which sticks under the ribs and makes it dangerous to breathe.

So let me be clear, here at the start.

If I do speak, if I do tell what happened six years ago in that village in the mountains, a village so small it appears only on military maps, it will not be for reasons of nobility. The chance for nobility is over. Even this, story or confession or whatever it turns out to be, is too late.

*

My mother asleep. The summer afternoon, the sun an open wound, the air outside straining with heat and noise. But here, in our living room, the curtains are drawn; there is a dim and deadly silence. My mother lies on the sofa, cheek pressed to the armrest, asleep.

The bell rings. She doesn't open her eyes right away, but there is movement behind her lids, the long return from wherever she has been. She stands, walks to the door.

*

Hello, madam, hello, hello, I am selling some very nice pens' -

Good afternoon, madam, please listen to this offer, if you subscribe to one magazine, you get fifty percent' -

A long-lashed boy with a laminated sign: I am from Deaf and Dumb Society' -

"Oh, get lost," my mother says. And shuts the door.

*

Somebody once described my mother as "a strong woman." From the speaker's tone, I knew it was not intended as a compliment. This was, after all, the woman who cut off all contact with her own father after he repeatedly ignored his wife's chronic lower back pain, which turned out to be the last stages of pancreatic cancer; the woman who once broke a flickering lightbulb by flinging a scalding hot vessel of rice at it; the woman whose mere approach made shopkeepers hurry into the back, praying for invisibility; the woman who sometimes didn't sleep for three nights in a row; the woman who nodded sympathetically through our neighbor's fond complaints about the naughtiness of her five-year-old son, then said, with every appearance of sincerity, "He sounds awful. Shall I slit his throat for you and get it over with?"

This was the woman whose daughter I am. Was. Am. All else flows from that.

When she died, I was twenty-one, in my last year of college. When I got the call, I took an overnight bus back to Bangalore, carrying nothing but a fistful of change from the ticket. Eleven people came to her funeral, including my father, me, and Stella, our maid, who brought her youngest son. We stood near the doorway, wedged between the blazing mouth of the electric crematorium and the March heat. The only breeze came from Stella's son, who kept spinning the red rotors of a toy helicopter.

From The Far Field. Used with permission of Grove. Copyright © 2019 by Madhuri Vijay.

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