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After her mother’s death, a restless young girl goes on a journey to the beautiful but troubled land of Kashmir. The story of her travel is the story of The Far Field.
How do I review this book? A book that touches upon so many aspects. How do I review a book that left me speechless at the end?
But let me make a confession here first. I wasn’t sure if my reaction would be positive when I picked up The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay due to the negative reviews that did the rounds on social media, initially. However, I decided to give the book a shot after it won the JCB award this year.
And boy! Am I glad that I decided to.
Kashmir. The very name seems magical to us! Deep valleys, gorgeous mountain peaks, the beautiful sunset across the Dal Lake.
Apart from all this, the name also conjures up an image of turmoil, militancy and rampant violence in one’s mind. I hadn’t read a book based in Kashmir until now. Much as I thought I had the political maturity (oh well, I just coined the existence of such a thing) I couldn’t completely fathom the issues burning deep within the region. Reading The Far Field brought in a lot more perspective to my thoughts.
Yet, I wouldn’t really say that this book is just about Kashmir. It is much more. The book is about flawed characters, about human values and family relationships. It the story of Shalini- a restless young girl from Bangalore who sets out on a life changing journey to Kashmir after her mother’s death.
As she struggles with her own turmoil, she comes face to face with Kashmir and its politics. With the hatred around and the violence ready to erupt any moment. Blending in morals, love, history and the political condition of Kashmir, to me the book was near perfection.
At 450 odd pages, The Far Field is no quick read. Yet, it didn’t bore me, rather I was engaged right to the end. The prose evokes the sights, smells and details of the region. Right from drawing comparisons between the bustling streets of Bangalore to the tension ridden lanes of military occupied remote village Kishtwar.
Madhuri Vijay tactfully describes the human condition moving on with sympathy from one character to another. The village headman, the women and children of Kishtwar, she describes their predicament in a society laden with religious discord and immoralities.
Her writing brings out the fact that violence of any kind leads to a degradation of human life and impacts relationships. Her description of joys of life, the flora and fauna of the region, of mountain trees and blossoms bring in vivid visions in the mind.
Nowhere does she make a judgement on which side is right or wrong. She looks at the irony of human existence with a non-judgemental gaze and yet manages to communicate the right emotion about the issue at hand. The dialogues in the book bring out the different voices in the story. Each voice hits you. With subtle symbolism and metaphors, the book speaks volumes.
The following extract will make it clear:
“I see us as we were then, standing eye to eye, labouring hard under the illusion that we were cynical and cold, that our respective tragedies had inured us, put us permanently beyond the reach of further suffering, when the truth was that we were as terrified and lost as babies.”
― Madhuri Vijay, The Far Field
My only grouch- I did have some reservations with respect to Shalini- the protagonist. Insecure, confused and at most times selfish, I wish she could take a stand in life. But well, aren’t we all humans flawed in many a ways?
The Far Field nevertheless deserves all the applause. Take your time for this book. It is a well written one.
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A version of this was earlier published here.
Picture credits: Pexels
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