Praise for The Far Field
Winner of the 2019 JCB Prize for Literature
Shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
An Indies Introduce pick, an IndieNext selection, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, a Publishers Weekly Book of the Week, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2019
A Most Anticipated Book of 2019 for Entertainment Weekly, Refinery29, Business Insider, and Bustle
“Consuming… Vijay’s command of storytelling is so supple that it’s easy to discount the stealth with which she constructs her tale, shifting time frames with seamless ease and juggling a wealth of characters who cling to the heart. The show-stealer is Shalini’s mercurial mother, an ‘outrageous queen’ of capricious gestures. Vijay smartly resists psychoanalyzing her, implying that the china-shop bulls in our families can be survived but never entirely explained away.”—New York Times Book Review
“Vijay probes grand themes—tribalism, despotism, betrayal, death, resurrection—in exquisite but unflowery prose, and with sincere sentiment but little sentimentality.”—New Yorker
“‘All finite things reveal infinitude,’ wrote Theodore Roethke in ‘The Far Field.’ That poem, published in Roethke’s final collection in 1964, concludes with the image of ‘a ripple widening from a single stone / Winding around the waters of the world.’ That’s exactly the expanding effect of Madhuri Vijay’s debut novel, which is also titled The Far Field… For the vast majority of us, who hear of the troubles in Kashmir only as a faint strain in the general din of world tragedies, The Far Field offers something essential: a chance to glimpse the lives of distant people captured in prose gorgeous enough to make them indelible — and honest enough to make them real.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
“Madhuri Vijay’s supremely accomplished debut novel, ‘The Far Field,’ … is an expansive and wonderfully immersive work … Vijay gives us a brilliant outsider’s view of an exotic, off-the-beaten-track realm and a compelling portrayal of a character gradually unraveling due to forces beyond her control. This is a stunning novel that skillfully grapples with the complexities of human relationships. Madhuri Vijay’s career looks very bright indeed.” –Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Ms. Vijay is an effortlessly assured prose writer. The book’s length led me to expect something slow and atmospheric, but to my surprise I snapped it up in two sittings… Ms. Vijay makes shrewd use of parallels and asymmetries in these mirrored narratives. Shalini intrudes on Bashir’s son’s household just as Bashir once disrupted hers. The counterpart to the wonderfully sharp-tongued figure of Shalini’s mother is Bashir’s impudent, fearless daughter-in-law, Amina, who steals every scene she’s in… ‘The Far Field’ is illuminating about the persecutions in Kashmir, but at its heart it is about the ironclad laws of class by which all India is ruled.”—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“In Madhuri Vijay’s exquisite debut novel, grief propels a young woman to northern India, where she seeks answers about her mother’s past. She meets people and communities constantly on the brink of political violence, upending her assumptions about herself and her country.”―Elle
“A story exploring the passage of time and the repercussions of one’s actions sets out to ask the charged question of what it is that we spend our lives searching for.”—Vanity Fair
“A ghastly secret lies at the heart of Madhuri Vijay’s stunning debut, The Far Field, and every chapter beckons us closer to discovering it… The Far Field chafes against the useless pity of outsiders and instead encourages a much more difficult solution: cross-cultural empathy.”—Paris Review
“Loss can make a detective out of anyone, taking us on odd, winding, revelatory journeys toward resolving the pain of the finite. It can also, as Madhuri Vijay so thornily illustrates in her debut novel, The Far Field, blind us from all that’s around us — from our actions and their consequences. Grief, she argues, can be a fundamentally selfish pursuit… a layered examination of pressing Indian political conflicts… Shalini’s wounded narration — her wistful, nostalgic anguish — still pulses through most intensely, lending the novel the feel of a sorrowful family epic. Here is a singular story of mother and daughter — a loving, broken bond so strong it touches, changes, and hurts countless lives beyond theirs.”—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
“Vijay provides that alchemical mix of political examination with personal journey that deepens all great novels. The Far Field plays out along the Indian/Kashmir border and follows a young woman’s awakening into the dark realities of her family and her country. As an added bonus, her mother is one of the most memorable characters in contemporary literature. At times brutal, but always tuned to the desperately sweet longing for human connection, Vijay has created a necessary and lovely work that transcends 2018!”―Southern Living
“Exquisite… Vijay does a superb job of showing how the personal and the political spark off one another to drive change in both. But when violence erupts in Kashmir, difficult choices must be made and sobering lessons learned about privilege, Indian history, class prejudice, violence, and sexuality.”— Amazon
“Remarkable… engrossing… Vijay’s stunning debut novel expertly intertwines the personal and political to pick apart the history of Jammu and Kashmir.”—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Vijay intertwines her story’s threads with dazzling skill. Dense, layered, impossible to pin—or put—down, her first novel is an engrossing tale of love and grief, politics and morality. Combining up-close character studies with finely plotted drama, this is a triumphant, transporting debut.”—Booklist (Starred Review)
“Vivid… a striking debut.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Dazzling… 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.”—Bookpage (Starred Review)
“Remarkably vivid … Vijay’s descriptive powers and eloquent prose work brilliantly in awakening the reader to the majestic beauty of Kashmir and the severe hardships of villagers who make their home in its verdant landscape. Vijay’s writing is socially astute, exploring taboos of mental illness, female sexuality and religious indifference. It is also politically relevant, a reminder that beautiful but war-torn Kashmir is still a disputed territory, fought over for decades by India and Pakistan.”—Shahina Piyarali, Shelf Awareness
“I had to remind myself while reading The Far Field that this is the work of a debut novelist, and not a mid-career book by a master writer at the height of her powers. Madhuri Vijay astonishes with her wisdom, her fearlessness, her sure handling of a desperately loaded narrative that’s equal parts love story, war story, and family intrigue. Such is the power of Vijay’s writing that I finished the book feeling like I’d lived it. Only the very best novels are experienced, as opposed to merely read, and this is one of those rare and brilliant novels.”—Ben Fountain, author of Beautiful Country Burn Again
“I am in awe of Madhuri Vijay. With poised and measured grace, The Far Field tells a story as immediate and urgent as life beyond the page. I will think of these characters – tender and complex, mysterious and flawed, remarkably real to me – for years to come, as though I have lived alongside them.”—Anna Noyes, author of Goodnight, Beautiful Women
“Utterly immersive and vividly realized, The Far Field is that rare gem of a novel which effortlessly transports the reader into distant, unfamiliar terrain through the force of a story deeply anchored in the humanity of its characters. Madhuri Vijay’s debut marks the arrival of an astonishing new talent.”—Elliot Ackerman, author of Waiting for Eden
“The Far Field is remarkable, a novel at once politically timely and morally timeless. Madhuri Vijay traces the fault lines of history, love, and obligation running through a fractured family and country. Few novels generate enough power to transform their characters, fewer still their readers. The Far Field does both.”—Anthony Marra, author of The Tzar of Love and Techno
“This riveting and unique book faces the most troubling, insoluble questions with a bold, keen clarity that has no patience for anything less than the complete truth, even if that truth is disappointing or merciless or dark. The fierce undertow of Vijay’s prose masterfully propels this story about loyalty, about how we create, sustain, and inevitably break our bonds with other people.”—Merritt Tierce, author of Love Me Back
“I loved this novel. Shalini is an utterly convincing narrator, particularly in her naïveté, which might very well serve as a metaphor for her country’s refusal to see what it has wrought in Kashmir. Madhuri Vijay has written a brilliant and important book.”—Liaquat Ahamed, author of Lords of Finance
“What do we spend our lives searching for? What lasts and what pushes us forward? These are some of the questions Madhuri Vijay’s THE FAR FIELD explores and navigates with a heart on fire. Stunning in its artistry, in its engagement with the world and the personal, this is a profound and monumental achievement composed with rage, vulnerability, humor, grief, and mystery. How dangerous this novel is, in the very best of ways, and how grateful I am for this writer and for her creation.”—Paul Yoon, author of The Mountain
“A strikingly unusual book full of beauty and surprise.”—Sonia Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing
Bookseller praise for The Far Field
“Few seasoned novelists–let alone a first-time novelist like Madhuri Vijay–are able to construct scene after scene with compelling interior drama, tension and forward momentum. You never want to stop reading as Vijay skillfully combines a personal journey and a family mystery with a political examination of the Kashmiri-Indian troubles. Shalini, the narrator of this extraordinary work, has a mother who immediately belongs on any shortlist of literature’s great characters. If I read a better novel in 2019, then 2019 will become my favorite year of the 21st Century.”—Brian Lampkin, Scuppernong Books (Greensboro, NC)
“In Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field a young woman named Shalini explores the fraught and tender relationship between herself and her mother, and the roots of tragedy. Following her mother’s death, Shalini leaves her privileged life in Bangalore for Kashmir–a place still scarred from the insurgencies of the 1980s and 90s–to find her mother’s friend. Her quest, and its consequences, matched with lucid prose makes for an engrossing and accomplished novel.”—Myles Mickle, Village Square Booksellers (Bellows Falls, VT)
“This rich, beautifully detailed story reads like the work of a seasoned novelist. Shalini, a young woman from Bangalore, travels to Kashmir to try to answer questions about her mother’s untimely death. She becomes embroiled in the political rivalries that boil under the surface in that troubled area. Vijay’s descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of southern India and Kashmir are dead-on. The characters are drawn with the detail of a fine portrait artist, with a deft hand at highlighting the flaws and goodness of even the most minor players.”—Grace Harper, Mac’s Backs (Cleveland, OH)
“In her remarkably accomplished debut novel, The Far Field, Madhuri Vijay takes a young woman on a quest, from her home in southern India to the politically-charged, volatile setting of Kashmir, which is also a quest into mysteries and uncertainties in her family’s history. There are things about her mother, her father, another man. People, places, situations – tension – disclosures and revelations all happen, the way life happens, what’s revealed after being concealed – all are evoked with beautiful, precise language. There is an assurance here, knowing of people’s ways, that belie this being a first book or a younger writer. Beautifully done.”—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, WA)
“I am thirty years old and that is nothing.” says The Far Field’s narrator, Shalini, in the first line of this book, a statement that drives right into the heart of this story. What does age mean when the years have been sheltered, privileged? What does it mean to pursue a ghost from your past, a ghost that takes you out of the city (Bangalore) to a mountainous village in a politically volatile state (Kashmir)? What are our blind spots, and how can they wreck the lives of others? These are the deeper undercurrents of this force of a novel. Shalini’s combination of self-awareness and recklessness makes this an absorbing, swift read, and The Far Field unfolds like a mystery. This is the kind of the story that calls to you when you’re away from it, the kind of story that you never forget.” –Shuchi Saraswat, Brookline Booksmith (Brookline, MA)
“Rarely does a book of this size and breadth capture a reader in the first few pages, but Madhuri Vijay’s master storytelling sweeps you up and never lets you go. The Far Field is everything you want in an epic – love, loss, and relationships that transcend even the most horrific circumstances. Not everything is as it appears on the surface, and Vijay’s nuanced writing creates depths that transform her characters and her readers.” –Julie Slavinsky, Warwick’s (La Jolla, CA)
“This is a big, beautiful novel with depth and a big heart. I was swept up in the story from the first page to the last.” –Kerry Barringer, Little City Books (Hoboken, NJ)
“The death of Shalini’s mother sparks a journey to Kashmir in search of a man who seemed to one day simply disappear. Once she finally reaches her destination, she is taken in by a family and soon realizes that she has found herself not in the Kashmir of the tales she was told as child, but one of a people, culture and region in bitter conflict. Written in rich prose, and intriguing characters, this debut is a slow burn that will linger long after pages are finished.” –Shannon Alden, Literati Bookstore
“The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay is stunning! Shalini is a young woman from Bangalore searching for a man from memories of her childhood among the remote Himalayan villages of Kashmir to learn about her layered and enigmatic mother. Her journey forces her to go face-to-face with civil and social politics, while contending with the matters of her heart. Madhuri Vijay’s writing is so aromatic, I could smell perfume and plumes of smoke in her sentences. I absolutely loved it!” –Thu Doan, Brazos Bookstore
Reading Group Guide
1. The Far Field opens with an epigraph from a Wisława Szymborska poem, “Some People.” The poem’s final lines are: “Given a choice, / maybe he will choose not to be the enemy and / leave them with some kind of life” (p. ix). Who are the various enemies in The Far Field and do they in fact leave those they encounter with “some kind of life”?
2. Vijay uses first-person narration and flashbacks to advance the narrative of The Far Field. How do these techniques help to provide the reader with a critical understanding of the characters? Do you consider Shalini, the narrator, to be reliable? Explain your answers.
3. On page 3, Shalini says, “I am thirty years old and that is nothing.” What does this introduction tell the reader about Shalini’s character?
4. Compare the relationship Shalini has with her mother to the one she has with her father. To which parent is she closest? Provide examples to support your answer.
5. Explore how the death of a loved one can shape the memories and actions of those left behind. In what way does the loss of Amma affect Shalini and her father? After so many years, why does Shalini feel compelled to find her mother’s only friend, Bashir Ahmed?
6. The Far Field provides an unflinching look at sociopolitical divisions in India and the turmoil in Kashmir. Discuss how the various structures of society—class, caste, gender, religion—are depicted in the story. Before reading the novel, how familiar were you with these divisions in India? Did this book provide you with another perspective? How so?
7. What effect does Bashir Ahmed’s arrival have on Shalini and her family? Compare his relationships with Amma, Shalini, and Appa. How does he come to change their lives? In what way does he serve as a foil to Appa? What does Shalini sense in her mother during Bashir Ahmed’s final visit?
8. On page 243, Amma says to Shalini, “I have a life. And that life, whatever you or anyone else might think of it, is something I intend to protect. Against everybody. Even you.” Discuss Shalini’s mother’s role in the story. Do you think of her as a powerful character or a powerless one? What influence does she wield on the people around her?
9. Shalini comes to consider several characters such as Zoya, Abdul Latief, Amina, Riyaz, and Aaqib as part of her extended family. How do they influence Shalini? Discuss their importance to the story.
10. What emphasis does the novel place on the notion of telling stories, both about the world and about one’s own past? Do the novel’s characters always tell stories that are complete and perfectly true, or do they sometimes choose to mitigate and alter their versions? What consequences do such omissions have?
11. Amina is one of the few characters in the book who genuinely offers Shalini uncomplicated friendship. Shalini, however, is unable to reciprocate: “I could hear, too, the entreaty in her voice, for a woman’s understanding, a woman’s sympathy. And to my lasting shame, I denied her both” (p. 249). How do you view Amina? Does your opinion of her change over the course of the book? Why or why not?
12. Shalini starts the novel as a privileged and restless young woman stunned by the death of her beloved mother. A mother who later in the story tells her that she is “allowed to be something else” (p. 283). What do you think her mother means by this? Explore what Vijay is trying to convey about identity and Shalini’s bond with her mother. In what ways is she most like Amma? In what ways is she different?
13. What is the role of Mohammad Din in the novel? Examine the impact his actions have on Bashir Ahmed and his family. Why do you think Shalini ultimately decides to keep his secret?
14. Consider the moment Riyaz decides to leave his family behind and go to Bangalore with Shalini. How does this decision (and its ultimate failure) affect Riyaz and influence his character’s development? How does his relationship with Shalini play out over the course of the novel?
15. At the end of the novel Shalini has returned home from her journey fully aware that she is “taking no risks by recounting any of this, that, for people like me, safe and protected, even the greatest risk is, ultimately, an indulgence” (p. 430). What, then, is the significance of her confession?
Suggestions for further reading:
All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy; Pachinko by Min Jin Lee; To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari; Age of Iron by J. M. Coetzee; The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy; Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer; Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Reading Group Guide by Keturah Jenkins