The Far Field is the story of Shalini, a privileged your woman who travels from her home in Bangalore to a remote Kashmiri village in search of Bashir Ahmed, the man who beguiled her and her mother while she was a child before the Hindu-Muslim conflicts in Kashmir ended his visits. Her mother died recently and she feels desperate to see him again.
She does not know where he lives but remembers a story that brings her to Kishtwar where she stays with Abdul and Zoya who say they will help her find Bashir Ahmed. Over time she comes to love and admire them and learns their son was taken by the Indian Army and never heard from again. After a time, Bashir Ahmed’s son Riyaz comes to tell her his father is dead, but Zoya and Abdul encourage her to go to his village anyway. She does, becoming friends with Riyaz’ wife.
Meanwhile, in the narrative of her past, we realize that Bashir Ahmed, despite being an itinerant peddler was able to reach her mother more deeply than anyone else. Her mother exemplifies the bitterness of a brilliant woman denied an education. She is bold, defiant, loud, and captivating to both her husband and her daughter who orient their lives to her changeable moods.
The Far Field is an ambitious novel weaving together the complex family conflicts of parents and child with the political and ethnic strife between Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir. It is also a story of a reckless and feckless idle young woman who feels deeply and befriends people who she betrays in ignorance of the world and how it works. It is illuminating, I think, that she is happiest when she is helping, sorting invoices for Zoya’s group, tutoring Muhammed Din’s daughter, milking Amina’s cow, or cutting hay with Rayiz’ mother. She lacks purpose.
Though circumstances and actions differ, she reminds me of Adela Quested. Like Adela, she seeks friendship across ethnic and religious boundaries at a time of upheaval and like Adela, leaves havoc in her wake.
The Far Field is a book about telling stories and there are several storytellers. First, there is our narrator Shalini telling the story of her childhood and her travels in Kashmir, weaving the two narratives together, going back and forth in time. Then there is Bashir Ahmed, the Kashmiri salesman whose stories enchant Shalini and her mercurial mother. When she gets to Kashmir, there is another storyteller, Mohammed Din, whose benevolence hides many secrets. There are so many stories to tell.
The Far Field will be released January 15th by Grove Atlantic. I received an e-galley for review from the publisher through Edelweiss.