Saturday, 19 September 2020

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay Book Review.

Hi Readers! In the past 6 years, I have honestly said this so many times that even I am bored of writing that ‘it’s been a while.’ A solid 12 days gap this time, all thanks to the brutality of the reading slump. It’s the 19th day of the month & I have managed to read only 2 BOOKS! Sounds almost like a crime to me. I hope this number adds up to at least 4. Anyway, trying hard to move on from that. I recently found out about the JCB Prize which is the highest literary award in India which started in 2018. The first year the book Jasmine Days by Benyamin won that award. Last year, The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay won the award. Naturally, I decided to read both these books. Here goes the book review of The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay!

 

~~GOODREADS DESCRIPTION~~

“Gorgeously tactile and sweeping in historical and socio-political scope, Pushcart Prize-winner Madhuri Vijay's The Far Field follows a complicated flaneuse across the Indian subcontinent as she reckons with her past, her desires, and the tumultuous present.

In 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.

With rare acumen and evocative prose, in The Far Field Madhuri Vijay masterfully examines Indian politics, class prejudice, and sexuality through the lens of an outsider, offering a profound meditation on grief, guilt, and the limits of compassion.”

 

~~OVERALL THOUGHTS~~

I almost laughed out loud at that last paragraph of the description because what is made out to be an extraordinary story is merely something that could pass as above average. Now, I know this book won the JCB prize & I can see why, but below are also all the reasons why it should not have. Don’t worry, the Goodreads description intimidated me as well. It sounds full of promise & potential. Too bad it’s not.

 

~~MISSED POTENTIAL~~

I feel like I write about missed potential in all of my reviews lately. It’s just incredibly sad to me as a reader when the premise of the book lures me in only to disappoint later. I thought that this book will be about the reality of Kashmir – the lives of locals & soldiers & how it impacts both their lives, how the militants impact their lives & so much more. Instead, it took one angle & stayed on it. The angle of putting the Indian Soldiers in bad light. That was what most of the book was about. A coin has 2 sides & I never got to hear about the other side or in this case, you can say the 365 angle about the problems in Kashmir & how dire the situation is. The author picked a narrator similar to herself; a privileged woman based from Bangalore, which must have made it easier for her to write about the things none of them know about.

Not only were the problems in Kashmir talked about only on the surface, but on the other hand, the beauty of Kashmir was also only talked about on the surface. The part of Kashmir that tourists like me have seen & the part of Kashmir that the author has described are completely different. This gave her a lot of scope to describe it beautifully to us. Instead, what I read about was a shallow description hitting just the tip of the literal snow-clad mountain & never going deeper than that.

An Indian writing a novel like this already has a huge responsibility on their shoulders. Yes, it is fiction, but the facts of the matter always remain to be true. I have come to 2 conclusions – either the author did less research or that she herself thinks the way her protagonist does. Either way, it fails the premise of the book.

 

~~BORN OF PRIVILEGE~~

Initially I liked that the narrator Shalini was shown gullible, quite like most youth of India. She decided to go to Kashmir to find Bashir Ahmed, which is also too much of a stretch. The way she was unaware of the situation in Kashmir felt relatable to me. Shalini was born & brought up in Bangalore which is the other end of the country. She comes from a place of privilege with everything being handed to her easily. Having lived such a lifestyle, it is impossible to imagine her being self-aware of everything that happens in the country.

This was a good way to start the story, but it also made the rest of it a bit unbelievable. Such a girl goes & lives with a family in the mountains of Kashmir, milking their cow, caring for elders, teaching English to the Sarpanch’s daughter & what not. Your average screwed up woman in her 20s who cannot move on from grief, who uses other people to her benefit suddenly goes north & changes her whole personality in the blink of an eye. A bit much, no?

 

~~NARRATIVE STYLE~~

The story is divided into 2 parts – Shalini’s past & present. The past starts when she was a little girl & how this handsome stranger from Kashmir used to visit her home & how he struck a friendship with her mother. To be honest, I thought that this part of the story was a bit stretched with many unnecessary parts in it. This unusual relationship shared between Shalini’s mother & Bashir Ahmed & then later between Shalini & Riyaz was so unnecessary. I didn’t see any point in it.

Apart from the faults in the writing itself, there were SO MANY TYPOS throughout the book. This is the first book in which I must have seen so many typing errors & I absolutely hate those.


~~CONCLUSION~~

I have rated The Far Field at 3.5/5. This is a debut novel & honestly seems like reading a 3rd draft at its best. There was a scope of improving it at multiple places. There needs to be content that needs to be added & a lot of it that could be removed. It was a good experience to read an Indian author who did not write about love stories, but also it could have been a LOT BETTER. There were many lose ends that never connected. But, there were also a few things that hit right on spot. Overall, if I have to think about this novel, I’d say it’s a story written by a sheltered person herself who knows very little or pretends to know only one side of things.

 

Until next time,

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