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The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

Reviewed by Ghada Ibrahim

In Vijay’s tale there lies an inexplicable warmth bundled up in layers of melancholy; they enveloped me as I read it. Part of me wished to sink into the book and let its “oblique seductiveness” embrace every inch of my being. It left me feeling a certain way and I struggled to find the words to describe it. Days on end, I sought an escape in the bustle of Bangalore, the hilly mountains of Kashmir, and the captivating journey that Shalini embarks upon.

Shalini is an only child, born and raised into wealth, amidst all that Bangalore has to offer. In the warm embrace of familial life, she flourishes both as an adult and as her mother’s “little beast.” By the time Shalini is ready to step into the world at twenty, calamity strikes and she loses her mother. The shock stretches on, embedding itself deep, debilitating her for three continuous years. One day her father tells her of his wish to remarry and the shock of such a revelation pushes her to make the hasty decision of packing away her whole life and journeying to Kashmir. The story follows Shalini as she embarks on her soulful journey to find one Bashir Ahmed – an acquaintance of her mother from back in the day. The reader is treated to snippets of the childhood memories of a six-year-old Shalini as she witnesses and unwittingly becomes a part of her mother’s secret friendship.

At times I felt like the story was based off of true events rather than simply being the product of a creative mind. In the meandering narration of events and the eerily detailed recollections of Shalini’s childhood, I felt as if I were sitting across from her as she recounted her story. There is a resounding tenacity that shines through the pages, paired with utter tenderness and at times cruelty, which leaves the reader grappling with multiple emotions. At the center of The Far Field lies deep sentiment rivalled only by the consummate skill with which the prose is woven, resulting in an enthralling plot presented in smooth, vivid and memorable language. I do not recall the last time a book made me feel this way.

Vijay carefully knits together events from the present and the past leaving just enough to the imagination to pull the reader in. Nothing feels predictable and at the same time the 400+ pages do not feel like a drag. Carefully paced and brilliantly penned, the words spring out of the book to form an enrapturing halo around the reader. At times, the vague aimlessness Shalini experiences as she wallows in the grief of her mother’s demise becomes too relatable. She describes her mother as “incandescent” and herself as “her little beast.” Her memories of her mother exude confidence and fervor – qualities that she failed to inherit as she prospered in her mother’s shadow.

Shalini’s journey into the heart of Kashmir highlights more than just the disparity of her wealthy life and the traditions of those who dwell in small villages bedecking the mountains. It unpacks violence and politics in one fell swoop encompassing an incredible range of emotions, events, and perspectives. Vijay’s novel carries a heavy tone of fleetingness pushing the reader to consume her prose voraciously for fear of missing out. She writes, “we kept pace with the present, discarding as we went” and “people flowed around me, shops and bars glittered and trembled, and I tried to think of the future” perfectly encapsulating the transient nature of her story.

The intense honesty that shines through Vijay’s words bring people, moments, and places to life. In an inexplicable way, The Far Field leaves an ineffaceable impression on the reader. Vijay does not shy from wholeheartedly indulging in intense expressions of love, lust, grief, and forlornness. Amidst enjoying the raw brilliance, the ache of wanting more refuses to subside long after the pages have been devoured. It is the kind of story that nestles into your heart, as you submerge within it, making a home out of your soul. At the same time, it also steals a part of your soul leaving you hollow with want once you put it down.

Ghada Ibrahim is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in Psychology. Aside from being an avid reader immersing herself in the literary world, she likes to live with no regrets. She has been blogging and writing since the age of 15 and aspires to become a published author one day to share her love for all things literary with the rest of the world.