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.
The Far Field probes one woman’s coming to grips with the death of her harsh, beguiling, unknowable mother. Shalini tells her story as a 30-year-old reeling from a tragedy of her own making. The details are unclear, but she takes us back in time, to her childhood memories and the period following her mother’s funeral. Shalini decides as a dejected recent graduate to leave her life in Bangalore for the region of Kashmir to find Bashir Ahmed, a salesman who visited her home when she was young — and who was the only friend her mother had. But her privilege is confronted by chaos, her naïveté in Bashir’s war-torn village proving sadly untenable — even deadly.
The Far Field becomes a layered examination of pressing Indian political conflicts. But 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. B+
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