STARRED REVIEW
January 2019

The Far Field

By Madhuri Vijay
Review by

An unexpected friendship between a traveling Muslim garment seller from a remote Himalayan village and the aloof wife of a wealthy Hindu businessman from the southern Indian city of Bangalore forms the basis of The Far Field, the dazzling debut novel from Madhuri Vijay.

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BookPage starred review, January 2019

An unexpected friendship between a traveling Muslim garment seller from a remote Himalayan village and the aloof wife of a wealthy Hindu businessman from the southern Indian city of Bangalore forms the basis of The Far Field, the dazzling debut novel from Madhuri Vijay.

The salesman, Bashir Ahmed, is warm and charismatic, and his unlikely friend is the volatile mother of Shalini, a privileged young woman and the first-person narrator of the novel. After her mother’s death, Shalini, listless and troubled, goes off in search of Ahmed to find closure. At first it seems like an odd, reckless decision, to travel to the troubled northern end of the country—to Jammu and then Kashmir—in search of someone whom she only barely remembers from childhood and about whom she has only scant information.

In Jammu, Shalini lodges with a Muslim family that has been shattered by the loss of a son at the hands of the Indian Army. She then tracks down Ahmed’s family, who take her to their remote Indian village and treat her as one of their own. However, Shalini is in the midst of a fractured landscape, and nothing is what it seems. Hindus and Muslims are at loggerheads, and the army appears responsible for a series of disappearances. Foreign militants have been infiltrating the area, increasing tensions. Shalini’s longing for connection and love within this tumultuous setting only exacerbates her problems.

The story is told in chapters alternating between the present (Shalini’s cross-country trek in search of Ahmed) and the past (her youth and relationship with her parents, especially her difficult mother), and only as the story unfolds do the reasons for her journey start to become apparent. Through it all, Vijay’s prose is exquisite—florid and descriptive at times, spare and pared back at others. The story keeps twisting unexpectedly until the end, keeping emotions fraught, questions percolating. It’s a scintillating novel from a truly gifted writer.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Madhuri Vijay.

This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Far Field

The Far Field

By Madhuri Vijay
Grove
ISBN 9780802128409

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