Summary and book reviews of The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

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 2019, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Book Summary

Gorgeously tactile and sweeping in historical and socio-political scope, Pushcart Prize-winner Madhuri Vijay's The Far Field follows a complicated flaneuse across the Indian subcontinent as she reckons with her past, her desires, and the tumultuous present.

In the wake of her mother's death, Shalini, a privileged and restless young woman from Bangalore, sets out for a remote Himalayan village in the troubled northern region of Kashmir. Certain that the loss of her mother is somehow connected to the decade-old disappearance of Bashir Ahmed, a charming Kashmiri salesman who frequented her childhood home, she is determined to confront him. But upon her arrival, Shalini is brought face to face with Kashmir's politics, as well as the tangled history of the local family that takes her in. And when life in the village turns volatile and old hatreds threaten to erupt into violence, Shalini finds herself forced to make a series of choices that could hold dangerous repercussions for the very people she has come to love.

With rare acumen and evocative prose, in The Far Field Madhuri Vijay masterfully examines Indian politics, class prejudice, and sexuality through the lens of an outsider, offering a profound meditation on grief, guilt, and the limits of compassion. 

Excerpt
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, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may 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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Far Field portrays the heroic quest of a flawed and enduring heroine seeking her purpose in a difficult world, and bears witness to complicated political injustices and territorial disputes in contemporary Jammu and Kashmir...continued

Full Review (973 words).

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(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
Vijay draws us into the bloody history of this contested region and the cruel conundrum of ordinary lives trapped between outside agitators and foreign conquerors...For the vast majority of us, who hear of the troubles in Kashmir only as a faint strain in the general din of world tragedies, The Far Field offers something essential: a chance to glimpse the lives of distant people captured in prose gorgeous enough to make them indelible — and honest enough to make them real.

The Guardian
Vijay writes with an assurance surprising in a first-time novelist, and is a delight to read. And while this is an in-depth expansion on the history and people of Jammu and Kashmir (humane but never sentimental), it is her protagonist who compels most, as Shalini watches her certainties gradually taken away from her and then returned laden with nuance and complexity.

Kirkus Reviews
A striking debut, stronger on the micro than the macro.

Library Journal
Narrating Shalini's journey in chapters that alternate between past and present and utilizing strong characterizations throughout, Vijay has crafted an engaging, suspenseful, and impressive debut

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Remarkable...an engrossing narrative... Vijay's stunning debut novel expertly intertwines the personal and political to pick apart the history of Jammu and Kashmir.

Booklist
Starred Review. Vijay intertwines her story's threads with dazzling skill. Dense, layered, impossible to pin - or put - down...this is a triumphant, transporting debut.

Author Blurb Ben Fountain, author of Beautiful Country Burn Again
Madhuri Vijay astonishes with her wisdom, her fearlessness, her sure handling of a desperately loaded narrative that's equal parts love story, war story, and family intrigue. Such is the power of Vijay's writing that I finished the book feeling like I'd lived it. Only the very best novels are experienced...and this is one of those rare and brilliant novels.

Author Blurb Anna Noyes, author of Goodnight, Beautiful Women
I am in awe of Madhuri Vijay. With poised and measured grace, The Far Field tells a story as immediate and urgent as life beyond the page. I will think of these characters – tender and complex, mysterious and flawed, remarkably real to me – for years to come, as though I have lived alongside them.

Author Blurb Elliot Ackerman, author of Waiting for Eden
Utterly immersive and vividly realized, The Far Field is that rare gem of a novel which effortlessly transports the reader into distant, unfamiliar terrain through the force of a story deeply anchored in the humanity of its characters. Madhuri Vijay's debut marks the arrival of an astonishing new talent.

Author Blurb Anthony Marra, author of The Tzar of Love and Techno
The Far Field is remarkable, a novel at once politically timely and morally timeless....Few novels generate enough power to transform their characters, fewer still their readers. The Far Field does both.

Author Blurb Paul Yoon, author of The Mountain
Stunning in its artistry, in its engagement with the world and the personal, this is a profound and monumental achievement composed with rage, vulnerability, humor, grief, and mystery. How dangerous this novel is, in the very best of ways, and how grateful I am for this writer and for her creation.

Author Blurb Sonia Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing
A strikingly unusual book full of beauty and surprise.

Reader Reviews

TheAvidBookerfly

Perfect mix of love-war-family drama
Storyline/Overview - The Far Field is a heartbreaking beautiful page turner. The debut novel by Madhuri Vijay (Pushcart prize winner) is an amazing coming-of-age narrative of Shalini’s life. The plot takes her from southern India to Kashmir in the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

India: A Feast of Languages

Indian Culture MapIn Madhuri Vijay's novel The Far Field, characters speak a variety of languages: Hindi, Kashmiri, English, Tamil and Urdu. India has a shimmering history as the crossroads of civilizations and cultures, so it's not surprising that its inhabitants speak many languages. The constitution of India recognizes 22 official languages, but a 2011 census reveals that there are more than 121 different mother-tongue languages spoken by at least 10,000 people, with quite a few other languages used by smaller numbers of native speakers.

The 22 languages recognized by India's national constitution are: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, ...

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