Friday, 9 August 2019

Book Review: The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay.

Book: The Far Field

Author: Madhuri Vijay

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 432

Read On: Paperback Edition

How Long it Took Me To Read: 2 days

Plot SummaryIn 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.

General Thoughts: I was very kindly sent this book for review by the publishers. but I had my eye on it for so long. This book had been on my Amazon wish list for a hot minute too. So I was very happy to have been sent it. As always, the thoughts and opinions are all my own.

Things I Liked: 

1. I loved this book, let's just get that out of the way already. I loved it. From the very beginning it drew me in with this brilliant writing, haunting imagery and it's people- flawed and less-than-perfect and wholly real. I had a hard time putting this book down. All the good things you've heard about this book, it's true, its absolutely brilliant. I finished it last night and I am still actively thinking about it. This is the kind the book, the kind of story that stays with you. Of course, my timing with reading it is also pretty impeccable. This week is a great time to be reading a story set largely in Kashmir. It made this whole reading experience so much more poignant and necessary and relevant.

2. The writing is beautiful, subtle and moving and sublime. It blows my mind that this is a debut novel. I can't wait to see what else the author writes in the future.

3. The story itself, one of discovery and memory and loss is dealt with so much grace. These themes have been present in so many stories but reading about them here is felt brand new. Shalini's journey from her very privileged life in a metro to her living in the mountains of Kashmir comes across as effortless and it pulls you into this world. You find yourself walking with Shalini, meeting these people and discovering that the world you think you know or understand might just be completely different.

4. The book goes back and forth for most of it's length. We see Shalini in the present embarking on a search for a person from her childhood and then we go back and see Shalini's childhood, her parent's odd marriage, her mother and her mood swings and the introduction of this interesting stranger that makes a lasting impression on our protagonist. The two worlds blend effortlessly into each other. We need both these halves to make a whole. Understand the past to see why events in the present matter so much. I tend to enjoy stories told in this format and in this book too it works very well.

5. Shalini- to be entirely honest, I am not quite sure how I feel about her. Like I said, I finished the book last night and I have been wondering how I feel about her. Do I like her? Do I judge her? I don't think she was ever meant to be someone the reader 'likes'. At least I didn't like her wholly. She is real, painfully so. Someone in her early twenties who is quite frankly struggling. Struggling with her mother's death. The pressures of adulting. Ennui. Angst. Loss. All of these aspects of Shalini were relatable and crafted beautifully, she felt like someone you know or follow on social media. A young woman growing into herself. Naive and conflicted and unsure. In someways she is typical of her privilege. There were times I actively disliked her, for instance, she goes to Kashmir after lying to her father, promptly abandons her phone and doesn't keep in touch with the poor man at all and then moves to the hills and all of this without an ounce of worry about her father. I wanted to scream 'Call your Dad, Shalini! Call him now!'

She isn't perfect. She isn't exactly heroine material. She is painfully naive and sometimes some of the things she does are quite problematic. And I guess that is why she is someone who seems so real and genuine. Because people aren't perfect either.

6. Kashmir, all of this week, everywhere you turn has been on everyone's mind and all over the News. It made it the perfect time to dive into this story. To see the life of Kashmiris and see their stories. From a small town and a couple dealing with their 'missing' son to the remote mountains and a family living under the shadow of allegations. The daily grind of life in Kashmir, of people just trying to live their lives and be safe and hope for a better future for their children will break your heart. Or at the very least, make to stop for a moment and think about the Kashmir crisis in new light.

7. My absolute favourite part about this book has got to be its people, more specifically its secondary characters if you will. Bashir Ahmed, our mysterious figure from Shalini's childhood, the catalyst of all the things that happen in the book, is a marvellous character. Quiet and kind and confused and caught in things bigger than himself. We don't see a whole lot of him and what we do see, is something that will stick with you.

I loved pretty much everyone we meet in Kashmir. The first few people Shalini meets in Kashmir, a couple Zoya and Latief are wonderful. Kind and helpful all the while dealing with unsurmountable grief and loss of their own. Yet, they choose to help others. Help Shalini. I wish there was more of them in the book.

Then we move to the mountains. We meet Riyaz, Amina, Aquib and local sarpanch- Mohammed Din and his daughter Sania. All of them interesting and memorable in their own way. The quiet and stoic Riyaz- who yearns for a different life, stubborn to a fault but very likeable. I loved Amina the best, she is such a lovely woman. Kind and open and welcoming. You immediately love her and root for her and wish her well. I could happily read a whole book about Amina.

8. Shalini's mother and her obvious mental illness is also written so well. It isn't openly addressed, as in with a name, but she clearly is someone who battled with depression. Bipolar Disorder from the sounds of it (sorry, but being a shrink means that I sometimes in my mind diagnose mental illnesses in fictional people). I love how we can see how it affects her and those around her, her marriage and her relationship with her daughter. Mental illness does that, it touches every aspect of your life, especially an untreated and longstanding mental illness.

9. The book is a wonderful example of showing privilege. Class privilege in particular. While reading the book, especially the parts set in the mountains, where we see just how hard Riyaz and Amina work, I kept thinking about incredibly self-indulgent Shalini is, she a daughter of a wealthy man can afford to suck at her job, lose herself in grief for three years, take a trip to the other end of the country on a whim and not have to worry about a thing and having this huge safety net to fall back on was a wonderful juxtaposition against the working class and people living in poverty. Shalini is a product of her massive privilege. She walks into people's lives casually and while she notices the inconvenience she causes, she almost shrugs it off. She offers advice and is naive at best, clueless at worst.

10. This book will stay with me for a long time. It's world and its people. The sadness it evoked. It's ending will stay with me. The losses and the tragedy and the sadness, all of it will stay. It's heavy but so important and relevant and necessary.

Things I Didn't Like: 

1. Shalini's Just no. I couldn't warm up to her at all. Odd and eccentric is one thing but being so abrupt and cruel and messed up a whole other thing. I get mental illness, especial untreated mental illness (psychologist right here) but her actions had some serious consequences. Just do better, woman.

2. Shalini herself, thought well crafted as a character, is infuriating and problematic and just didn't like her. If I knew her in real life I would ghost her as soon as humanly possible. She is so unlikable and cowardly and just no!

Rating: 4.5/5

So good!
Highly recommend.
Read it now! 

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