Rating: 4.5 / 5
I finally broke down and gave into the lure of Book of the Month in August. I immediately chose THE FAR FIELD by Madhuri Vijay as one of my initial picks. I’ve seen a few rave reviews, plus this was a discussion book pick for the Reading Women podcast Partition Narratives theme in July. They also have an interview with Madhuri Vijay up to discuss the book more!
THE FAR FIELD is the story of Shalini, a young woman in Bangalore who comes from a background of privilege, though she comes from a very broken family. When the book opens Shalini is living a pretty aimless life following the death of her mother. Her mother was a difficult person who seemed to be dealing with her mental health, but Shalini and her mother were in some ways very close as well. Shalini is now living at home with her father, but they seem to be just existing in each other’s radius.
On the spur of the moment, Shalini makes a decision to track down a man named Bashir Ahmed that she and her mother knew years before. She sets out for Kashmir, a region with a lot of political upheaval and danger and the region she believes this man is from. Shalini has no real plans when she buys a train ticket, but is lucky enough to be directed to a place to stay with people willing to aid her in her search. In time she learns more about the dangers of the region with fights between ethnic and religious groups, militants and the army.
This novel is so incredibly written that it is hard to fathom that it is Madhuri Vija’s debut. The writing really brings the setting to life! It isn’t a plot heavy narrative and while there is some action, this really is about character development and the struggles of the people in Kashmir that the author is depicting. I completed quite a lot of this novel on auido book along with the written text and the writing is very lyrical when delivered in that form! The story gets told in two time streams in alternating sections of the book, slowly revealing the story of Shalini’s history with her family interspersed with her present exploration of Kashmir.
Shalini isn’t a character that most are going to love and I definitely struggled with her naivete and her poor decision making at times. While she does learn from her travels, the people she meets and their stories, even in the end she is still left with a lot of growth needed. One thing I liked was that the narrative is being given from Shalini’s perspective years after the action of the book, so even the narrator acknowledges some of the mistakes she made, showing that she did continue to learn and grown following the narrative’s conclusion.
I am really glad that I made this one of my inaugural Book of the Month picks! If you enjoy a beautiful narrative and a character driven story, this is one I think you will enjoy!