The Far Field

by Madhuri Vijay

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LoveReading Expert Review of The Far Field

This powerfully arresting debut sees an unsettled Bangalorean woman travel to a remote region of politically fractured Kashmir, with ricocheting repercussions.

Thirty-year-old Shalini has lived a privileged life, but one beset by uncertainty. She was her erratic mother’s “little beast” and is struggling to come to terms with her tragic death. Adrift from work and the wider world, Shalini journeys to find Bashir, a travelling salesman she and her mother befriended through her childhood, tentatively hoping this will provide some understanding of her mother’s death.

As Shalini’s journey unfolds in the present, a second narrative reveals her past with raw poignancy. On the road, Shalini’s faltering need to belong somewhere is revealed through her romantic imaginings of being part of a stranger’s family. And then, in Bashir’s remote Himalayan village, she becomes caught in a complex political situation, with the tangled conflict between her heart and conscience made powerfully palpable. While she feels “I had chosen this place, these people, this life, with its secrets and its violence, it’s hardness and its beauty”, Shalini recognises that she’s thrown Bashir’s family “into disarray with my invasion and my probing questions”.

The writing is so exquisitely magnetic that I struggled to draw myself away from it, especially as Shalini’s story rose to an unexpected, pulse-quickening climax. This is the rare kind of novel that lingers long in the heart and mind, like a dream one feels compelled to return to. 

Joanne Owen

The Far Field Synopsis

An elegant, epic debut novel that follows one young woman's search for a lost figure from her childhood, a journey that takes her from Southern India to Kashmir and to the brink of a devastating political and personal reckoning. 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. Cosmo's one of the best books by BAME writers to get excited about in 2019

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The Far Field Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

A powerful book that takes you into uncharted territory. A story of bravery and danger, love and loathing, that shows how our actions can influence the lives of others.

An accomplished work especially for a first novel. The author evokes a vivid picture of life in India, whether in the city of Bangalore or a mountain village.
I found Shalini, our heroine, rather frustrating at times in her choice of action, or inaction in some cases. But all the way through she is shown as a believable, if flawed character, I sort of liked her, but at times didn't.

It's a memorable and often moving tale of a young woman searching for something more in her life, which isn't as pretentious as it sounds. After the death of her mother with whom she had a close but complicated relationship, she decides to go travelling to find an old family friend. The paths she chooses are full of love and danger, but mainly adventure and soul searching, taking her many miles from her home and into the lives of others.

This book had me totally engrossed and had me reading late into the night, as it swept me along on Shalini's journey.

christine woolfenden

A book about grief and trying to find your way, and the impact one person can have on many.

Madhuri Vijay takes us to India and Kashmir. Tension in the work is created between comparing the lives of rich urban Indians and poor mountain Kashmiri folk. The contrast could not be starker: from opportunities; to money; to education, to the choice of how to live their lives. It takes us into a political conflict between Muslims and Indians who are mostly Hindu in this book. It helps us see that not all militants are rabid, screaming stereotypes but human beings and what unexpectedly could drive them to act as they do.

The narrator Shalini is 30 years old and has not found her way in life. She goes on a mission to find answers about her childhood hoping it will give her answers. She is a morally ambiguous person, not thinking about or caring enough to see how her actions will impact the lives and safety of the people she comes in contact with.

I enjoyed the fact that ms. Vijay illustrates her as a real person with strong aspects and weaknesses. Having said that, I really enjoyed this book

Tracey Thomas

Shalini’s journey from Bangalore to Kashmir, to track down an old friend of her mother’s, has repercussions for both herself and her Kashmiri friends that will stay with you for a long time. A stunning first novel.

In the aftermath of her mother’s death, Shalini loses her way in life and she eventually embarks on a journey to Kashmir, to track down an old friend of her mother’s from years ago. Her journey takes her almost the length of India, but the cultural distance between her home in the large southern city of Bangalore and the Kashmiri mountain village she learns to call home is far greater.

This is a stunning and original debut, it’s hard to believe it is a first novel. The language is creative and strongly evocative, not only bringing the reader deep into the life and culture of Bangalore and Kashmir, but creating a sense of helplessness and hopelessness at the final outcome of Shalini’s journey.

It is a novel to be savoured and enjoyed, one to immerse yourself in. I became so engrossed in the final 100 pages I missed my stop on the bus. It was intense and unexpected, at no point did I really know where this novel was taking me, and the ending was breathtaking. I turned right back to the beginning to read the opening pages again. This is a novel will stay with me for a long time, it was both shocking and moving in equal parts.

Alison Burns

A beautifully written, thought-provoking book following Shalini, a young woman dealing with the death of her mother, on her journey from Bangalore to Kashmir and the far-reaching impact her actions have on other people.

Shalini, the narrator of the story, who lives in Bangalore, is restless and wracked with guilt over her mother’s death and sets out on a journey to Kashmir to find a salesman, seemingly her mother’s only friend, who used to visit their house when she was a child.

The Far Field is beautifully written and its gentle prose belies the hard-hitting story about relationships, bravery, corruption, conflict and guilt that it covers. Shalini is a flawed individual, still trying to find herself whilst grieving for her mother, and quite unconscious of the impact her actions have on others. She doesn’t seem to be able to commit to any kind of relationship despite others reaching out to her which meant there were a number of times when I became frustrated with her actions. She eventually realises the extent of conflict and corruption that people in Kashmir have to deal with on a daily basis and does make one effort to redress this but only makes life worse for the people she was trying to help. In the end, no-one gains full redemption but life goes on.

This is a thought-provoking and beautifully written book that gives the reader a flavour of both the bustle of Bangalore and the conflict of Kashmir interwoven with believable characters.

Tracey Poulter

A stunningly beautiful, emotional, and captivating novel that hooked me in from the very start. Never have I felt so submerged, and involved in a book.

This beautifully, and deeply moving book hooked me in right from the very start. I very quickly became attached to Shalini the main character, and went on a rollercoaster of emotions as she did. So descriptive was the setting, and of her life that I felt as if I could see it all through her very eyes.
As I got deeper into the book and found out about her life, and of those around her I was even more eager to find out what was in store for them all.
I usually find it hard to keep up with a wealth of characters, and a time-hopping storyline, but this was so well written that never once did I feel lost in it all.
For a debut novelist to get everything so spot on, and capture my heart as Madhuri Vijay has done is no mean feat, and I can't wait to read her next book.

Lisa Rowsell

A seriously absorbing read which feels both familiar and foreign. I highly recommend that you lose yourself in it!

This is a journey of self-discovery for the central character, Shalini, an educated and independent young woman from Bangalore. It becomes a literal journey, to Kashmir, as she searches for connections to her recently deceased mother's past. It examines grief, regret, friendship and family, most particularly the mother-daughter bond - themes which will resonate with many. It also, quietly, sketches a little of India - the poverty and privilege, the class system, religion, the role of women in a modernising country. Fascinating to me, knowing little of this and leaving me wanting to find out more - a sign of a truly good read.

I found Shalini quite brittle and not especially likeable but the flashbacks to her childhood do a lot to explain. It is an immersive read, quietly powerful and so well-written that it is difficult to believe that it is a first novel - I'm looking forward to more.

Jan Payne

An engrossing debut novel skillfully interweaving both personal and political events.

Having experienced an uneasy relationship with her parents, upon her mother's death, Shalini leaves Bangalore and sets off to Kashmir in order to locate Bashir Ahmed, a salesman who frequented the family home and developed a rapport with her mother. Establishing contact with his son, Shalini discovers that life in the troubled Northern region is unsettled and volatile due to political unrest and she soon becomes entangled in the troubled history of the family she stays with. She is eventually forced to make some difficult choices which impact upon the lives of those whom she has formed relationships with.

I really enjoyed this book. The characters are well described yet there is an air of mystery surrounding many of them - especially Shalina's mother - which is quite intriguing. The pervading underlying theme of secrecy brought a constant sense of tension and I did not know which route the plot would take.

I learnt a lot about the political situation in Kashmir as well as becoming captured by Shalina's journey and her experience of grief, politics and morality.
The ending was unexpected but not disappointing.
A highly recommended novel.

Val Rowe

Madhuri Vijay Press Reviews

An impressive debut. -- Layla Haidrani - Cosmopolitan

The Far Field is remarkable, a novel at once politically timely and morally timeless. Madhuri Vijay traces the fault lines of history, love, and obligation running through a fractured family and country. Few novels generate enough power to transform their characters, fewer still their readers. The Far Field does both. -- Anthony Marra 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 -- Anna Noyes I had to remind myself while reading The Far Field that this is the work of a debut novelist, and not a mid-career book by a master writer... 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, as opposed to merely read, and this is one of those rare and brilliant novels. -- Ben Fountain Vivid...[THE FAR FIELD explores] complicated themes of parental fealty, identity, and religious schism...a striking debut. - Kirkus

Vijay intertwines her story's threads with dazzling skill. Dense, layered, impossible to pin - or put - down, her first novel is an engrossing tale of love and grief, politics and morality. Combining up-close character studies with finely plotted drama, this is a triumphant, transporting debut. - Booklist,STARRED REVIEW*

Stunning....Vijay's remarkable debut novel is an engrossing narrative of individual angst played out against political turmoil. - Publishers Weekly

Consuming... Vijay's command of storytelling is so supple that it's easy to discount the stealth with which she constructs her tale. - New York Times Book Review

The Far Field is an irresistible blend of moral subtlety and intellectual precision. Ingeniously conceived and elegantly written, it is a first novel of startling accomplishment. -- Pankaj Mishra Vijay probes grand themes - tribalism, despotism, betrayal, death, resurrection - in exquisite but unflowery prose, and with sincere sentiment but little sentimentality. - New Yorker

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. - Washington Post

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781611854831
Publication date: 02/01/2020
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9789353570958
Publication date: 12/07/2019
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781611856323
Publication date: 04/07/2019
Format: Hardback

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About Madhuri Vijay

Madhuri Vijay was born in Bangalore. The Far Field is her first book.

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