The Far Field is definitely one of the best novels I read this year. Madhuri Vijay won with it the JCB Prize for literature in 2019, the most prestigious Indian literary prize. And she totally deserved it.
The main protagonist, Shalini, tries to deal with grief after loosing her mother; a mother that she had had a difficult relationship with. She reminisces about childhood, she remembers a man from Kashmir that used to visit them, and decides – on a spur – to leave her comfortable life in Bangalore and head up North, to Kashmir, hoping to find out the truth behind her mother’s death.
But she is shocked to find out that Kashmir is on one hand a place filled with trauma – but on the other it is a refugee for her soul. She spends weeks with one family who help her when she keeps trying to find the mysterious man; later on she heads into the mountains, hoping to find the man who used to appear on the threshold of their house, with a bundle of clothes to sell in his hands. When she spends some time in a poor village on the border of India and Pakistan, she starts to comprehend the vast gulf that had always existed between them: her family living in a beautiful house in South India and a mysterious guest telling her stories from the land she had never been to.
Shalini is, however, not a person to be easily liked. She stumbles, she fails, she asks too many questions – having being brought up in a bubble completely detached from the tragic situation far away in Kashmir. She is shocked by violence, by the stationing army, by horrendous stories she hears from people she meets on her journey. Their fatigue, their grief, their anger suffocate her – and together with her we learn this difficult lesson of privilege. And page by page we also come to the conclusion how little we know about the world (or perhaps, how we choose not to know)