Reading guide for The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

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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
    Oct 2019, 448 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. The Far Field opens with an epigraph from a Wisława Szymborska poem, "Some People." The poem's final lines are: "Given a choice, / maybe he will choose not to be the enemy and / leave them with some kind of life" (p. ix). Who are the various enemies in The Far Field and do they in fact leave those they encounter with "some kind of life"?
  2. Vijay uses first-person narration and flashbacks to advance the narrative of The Far Field. How do these techniques help to provide the reader with a critical understanding of the characters? Do you consider Shalini, the narrator, to be reliable? Explain your answers.
  3. On page 3, Shalini says, "I am thirty years old and that is nothing." What does this introduction tell the reader about Shalini's character?
  4. Compare the relationship Shalini has with her mother to the one she has with her father. To which parent is she closest? Provide examples to support your answer.
  5. Explore how the death of a loved one can shape the memories and actions of those left behind. In what way does the loss of Amma affect Shalini and her father? After so many years, why does Shalini feel compelled to find her mother's only friend, Bashir Ahmed?
  6. The Far Field provides an unflinching look at sociopolitical divisions in India and the turmoil in Kashmir. Discuss how the various structures of society—class, caste, gender, religion—are depicted in the story. Before reading the novel, how familiar were you with these divisions in India? Did this book provide you with another perspective? How so?
  7. What effect does Bashir Ahmed's arrival have on Shalini and her family? Compare his relationships with Amma, Shalini, and Appa. How does he come to change their lives? In what way does he serve as a foil to Appa? What does Shalini sense in her mother during Bashir Ahmed's final visit?
  8. On page 243, Amma says to Shalini, "I have a life. And that life, whatever you or anyone else might think of it, is something I intend to protect. Against everybody. Even you." Discuss Shalini's mother's role in the story. Do you think of her as a powerful character or a powerless one? What influence does she wield on the people around her?
  9. Shalini comes to consider several characters such as Zoya, Abdul Latief, Amina, Riyaz, and Aaqib as part of her extended family. How do they influence Shalini? Discuss their importance to the story.
  10. What emphasis does the novel place on the notion of telling stories, both about the world and about one's own past? Do the novel's characters always tell stories that are complete and perfectly true, or do they sometimes choose to mitigate and alter their versions? What consequences do such omissions have?
  11. Amina is one of the few characters in the book who genuinely offers Shalini uncomplicated friendship. Shalini, however, is unable to reciprocate: "I could hear, too, the entreaty in her voice, for a woman's understanding, a woman's sympathy. And to my lasting shame, I denied her both" (p. 249). How do you view Amina? Does your opinion of her change over the course of the book? Why or why not?
  12. Shalini starts the novel as a privileged and restless young woman stunned by the death of her beloved mother. A mother who later in the story tells her that she is "allowed to be something else" (p. 283). What do you think her mother means by this? Explore what Vijay is trying to convey about identity and Shalini's bond with her mother. In what ways is she most like Amma? In what ways is she different?
  13. What is the role of Mohammad Din in the novel? Examine the impact his actions have on Bashir Ahmed and his family. Why do you think Shalini ultimately decides to keep his secret?
  14. Consider the moment Riyaz decides to leave his family behind and go to Bangalore with Shalini. How does this decision (and its ultimate failure) affect Riyaz and influence his character's development? How does his relationship with Shalini play out over the course of the novel?
  15. At the end of the novel Shalini has returned home from her journey fully aware that she is "taking no risks by recounting any of this, that, for people like me, safe and protected, even the greatest risk is, ultimately, an indulgence" (p. 430). What, then, is the significance of her confession?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Grove Press. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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