Vijay ... captures Shalini’s wary curiosity about the mountainous realm far to the north of her hometown ... What seems at first like a quiet, ruminative story of one woman’s grief slowly begins to spark with the energy of religious conflicts and political battles. Vijay draws us into the bloody history of this contested region and the cruel conundrum of ordinary lives trapped between outside agitators and foreign conquerors ... The Far Field is most poignant when it exposes the unintentional havoc of good intentions ... 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.
... supremely accomplished ... Vijay’s first novel is an expansive and wonderfully immersive work ... In the book’s main sections, 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.
A ghastly secret lies at the heart of Madhuri Vijay’s stunning debut, and every chapter beckons us closer to discovering it ... chafes against the useless pity of outsiders and instead encourages a much more difficult solution: cross-cultural empathy.
Ms. Vijay makes shrewd use of parallels and asymmetries in these mirrored narratives ... the decision to fasten the novel to Shalini’s point of view seems like a missed opportunity. 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. Yet that ease is partly due to the shortage of sustained friction. Like too many novels that take aim at living history, The Far Field begins in idleness and comfort, tentatively seeks out a meaningful encounter in a volatile corner of the globe, and then, at the first sign of genuine hardship, scampers back to the low-stakes safety of the First World. Shalini never quite seems like more than an interloper, a tourist. The Far Field goes some distance toward reminding readers of the realities of Kashmir, but not all the way.
The Far Field... an arresting debut novel by Bangalore-born Madhuri Vijay, captures Kashmir’s everyday horror with exhilarating, puissant prose ... by fine-tuning her attention to themes of intimacy, friendship, family loyalty, identity and community, Vijay avoids the reductive aesthetic of the privileged gaze ... Vijay has created a world of stripped-down joys, forever suspended in a maelstrom of beauty and terror, with characters whose lives hinge on the whims of ancient, inexorable hatreds between two scarred nations.
This impressive debut from the Indian writer Madhuri Vijay is about the crashing together of internal and external grief ... the novel becomes a powerful meditation on the chaos of good intentions—how well-meaning philanthropy can be undone by the naivety of privilege ... a masterful piece of fiction ... Vijay writes with an assurance surprising in a first-time novelist, and is a delight to read. And while this is an in-depth expansion on the history and people of Jammu and Kashmir (humane but never sentimental), it is her protagonist who compels most, as Shalini watches her certainties gradually taken away from her and then returned laden with nuance and complexity.
Vijay’s prose rearranges, re-orders and unveils the different stages of the characters’ lives, especially Shalini’s, neatly taking the reader in and out of various episodes of her life ... But this remembrance narrative gets complicated when Kashmir is super-imposed. The author was born and raised in Bangalore, as is the narrator. It is hard to miss the tone of Kashmir-as-an-exotic-place, a setting quite suitable for a quest—as seen through the eyes of non-Kashmiris. It’s the same old story: Kashmiris as caught between the militants and the Indian army ... If this novel is the only thing that brings certain readers the closest they have been to Kashmir, Vijay’s writing, well, checks the box of the description of the landscape ... The novel has garnered much praise (and has even been shortlisted for an award in India) for the way it talks about the situation in Kashmir since the 1990s. However, the attention seems misplaced: the novel seems less about Kashmir than a story perhaps serendipitously set there. If Vijay is making a point, other than a literary one, about Kashmir, it’s easily missed. The novel is full of Shalini, her observations about the place and the people, her desire. The novel ends abruptly because, well, the novel has to end somewhere.
... dazzling ... Through it all, 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.
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.
... can be luminous in outlining a young woman’s struggle to shape her own life, through train and road journeys, by adapting to the hardships and customs of far-flung mountain villages. At the same time, Vijay never loses sight of the fact that Shalini’s innocent recklessness is a liability, for her first hosts and for Bashir Ahmed’s family when she finds her way to them ... One of Vijay’s gifts is that she can make us feel for a protagonist who knows so little, yet yearns so deeply for something beyond her cushioned life ... Shalini’s quest to understand her mother’s life makes for a remarkable story, and Vijay is likely to be a talent to watch. But the most compelling stories here are not Shalini’s to fully tell. She can witness, and partly share, but not inhabit the lives of Bashir Ahmed and others. For all its sincerity, A Far Field is marked by these gaps and silences.
With such telling writing the author, Madhur Vijay from Bangalore, India, at the onset seduces the reader into reading a marvelous story ... Madhuri Vijay’s talent is her ability to transport the reader deep into the village life of the mountain folk ... Madhuri Vijay wields her pen so carefully that it becomes effortless to imagine the mountains, the villages, the violence of the army and guerrillas, the poverty, the precariousness of life, and the smells of the small houses filled with the perfume of farm animals, smoke from the fireplace and the simple food cooking on the hearth ... There are many very good Indian novelists who have emerged the last 50 years. Here is another one. If she goes on like this she will enter the first rank...
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.
Vivid ... Shuttling between past and present and exploring complicated themes of parental fealty, identity, and religious schism, Vijay’s ambitious novel is at its most magnetic when recounting Shalini’s immersion in a different world, her embrace by new kinds of family, and the lessons she learns. But its epic length sets up expectations of equally immersive political history, and here the storytelling is cloudier, staffed with clichéd characters. Most memorable are the scenes of stripped-down joy in the mountains where the author’s elegant, calm prose and intense evocations of people and places come into their own ... A striking debut, stronger on the micro than the macro.