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Book Review: The Far Field - Madhuri Vijay

Title: The Far Field
Author: Madhuri Vijay
Publisher: Fourth Estate India (12 July 2019)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Price: Rs. 472 on Amazon
Pages: 440

Award winning books are a tricky read, you either love them or hate them. After abandoning 'The White Tiger' and 'The God of Small Things' after a chapter or two, I never thought I'll go back to reading award winning books. This year, since I wanted to read diverse books, I've been open to reading them. The Booker Prize winning 'Girl, Woman, Other' was a splendid read and it gave me the boost to go ahead and read more of them. This book won the JCB Award in 2019 and I had bought the book back in November, but never got to reading it. Although, the reason I bought the book was its gorgeous cover! The reviews I read of this was mixed and hence this book remained on my shelf for a while. This month, I picked it up with zero expectations.

The Far Field is the story of a young restless girl from Bangalore, Shalini, who embarks upon a life-changing trip to Kashmir after her mother's death. The only child, Shalini, often called 'little beast' by her mother shares a very formal relationship with her parents and doesn't seem to understand her mother's random and often violent mood-swings. Her father is busy with his business and often tends to mock his wife for her lack of education. Their relationship dynamic is weird and Shalini doesn't understand them at all. Her father is often away on business and her mother is always distant. After her mother's death, Shalini and her father handle the grief in their own silent way. When Shalini looks back at her mother's life, she rarely remembers her to be lively. The only time she seemed happy is when her only friend, Bashir Ahmed, a clothes vendor from Kashmir visited her. Thus, armed with just the name of a village, Shalini decides to go to Kashmir to find Bashir Ahmed to learn why he mattered so much to her mother.

Once in Kashmir, she lives with an old couple who have lost their son. Soon, the unrest in the state comes to life and she witnesses the hatred, caste politics and violence first hand. Her search for Bashir Ahmed does yield fruit but not the way one would have expected. Shalini, city bred and naive in her own way tries to do right for people, but the results may prove catastrophic. When she gets an offer to stay back in Kashmir, she decides to take it without battling an eyelid, without thinking about the past or the consequences of the future. But, would such an impulsive decision be easy to stick to? Will she be able to turn a blind eye to the constant unrest and only look at the breathtaking beauty of the place?

There is no question here that Shalini is messed up. She's messed up so much that even as a reader you can't help sort her. This is exactly what happens when you grow up in a stale or near toxic environment. Shalini's relationship with her parents is so broken that it spills into every area of her life. In Kashmir, when she sees families living together, the love that they share, it is only natural that she is consumed by it. Her quest for finding Bashmir Ahmed is based on the fact that her restless mother was comforted by him and him alone. Why? That's what she wants to know. Now that her mother is not around, the question can be answered only by the other party. It is not easy to find the answer and even if you do, it is hard to digest it.

Kashmir, with all its beauty and religious schism is the true hero of this story. The descriptions are so vivid that you can almost smell the fresh grass and hear the squirting of the milk into the collection bucket. This is the first book that I've read on Kashmir and it is not hard to fall in love with it. In spite of all the curfews, the constant fear and the obvious unrest, something about this place intrigues you. The story takes time to take off and is not an easy read at 430 odd pages, but the multiple layers this story needs does justice to the tale at the end of the day. The only thing that did not work for me was the angle with Brigadier Reddy and I felt that it was totally unnecessary. I know that the idea was to show how much of a mess Shalini was, but it ruined the sanctity of the book for me.

While this story is about a woman who is looking to find answers revolving around her mother's sudden death, she does so at the expense of others and their emotions. She doesn't get the answers to all her questions, in fact all she gets is more questions and she is not enlightened or even sorted by the end of the story. This is very realistic and I liked the way the author explored this. The story also addresses the luxury of privilege and this marks a strong contrast when you look at the innocence and naivete of the people of Kashmir. As a character, Shalini is someone I just could not relate to. She's battling something, but one cannot say what. Worse, she doesn't seem to want to make any effort to sort herself. It is almost like she loves the melancholy that surrounds her. I have known people like this in real life and they are as toxic as they come. While it works for the story, I'd probably stay away from someone like her in real life. I also wish, Bangalore was explored more. A little more.

Verdict: An eye opener high on emotions. Not an easy read but it sure is a beautiful one.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

I read this book as part of the #TBRChallenge2020 for prompt 9 - A book to be read on a vacation or the plot is based around a holiday (could be a travelogue).


Linking up with Shalini for the #TBRChallenge2020.

Add your July 2020 book reviews to the linky below. You can add multiple posts to the linky. They can be a blog post or Instagram posts. They should however have a brief review of the book chosen for the prompt.

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  1. Love your detailed review, as always.

  2. This actually sounds like a very good description of so many real life people we have come across. While a character arc is a must for most novels, people who refuse to learn or evolve and remain messed up would make for a unique reading experience especially when they are the protagonist

  3. This sounds like a very real and a very raw read. Though it is difficult to find good, balanced books on Kashmir.

  4. Wow this one sounds really interesting and since its got Kashmir as a backdrop, I am so so tempted to pick this up right away. Thanks for such a well detailed and analysed review Soumya


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