The Far Field – Madhuri Vijay

This beautiful debut novel by Madhuri Vijay is riveting in its storyline. It is absorbing and has the power to hold one’s attention till the very last page.

It is disturbing too, at many levels.

It is narrated as a first person account in the voice of its twenty-four year old protagonist, Shalini.

The story takes the reader from the humidity of the cosmopolitan city of Bangalore to the icy heights of a remote village in the mountains in Kashmir, where Shalini finds herself looking for answers to the questions that fill her gaping life.

Never once does one feel like leaving her alone in her journey. One wants to hold her hand sometimes and shake her intensely till she comes to her senses, at others.

The novel is fraught with emotions and experiences that might well stay with the reader for a long time. The power of the author lies in her ability to hold on tautly to her story line as she weaves it deftly between the past and the present.

I was intrigued by the characters as they took shape. Bashir Ahmed, the Kashmiri salesman who arrived at their door step with his yellow bundle of shawls, a weaver of enchanting tales… Her mother, beautiful and eccentric… The entire atmosphere in Kashmir, the sense of foreboding with which one turns the pages, it’s chilling, to say the least.

So, is it a love story or a political potboiler?

You have to read this novel to find out, but one truth stands in stark relief and that’s the Kashmir story… The story of its people… A place remote, for those who don’t live there… Beloved, for those who do… And baffling, for those who merely visit…

A Death in the Himalayas – Udayan Mukherji

This book comes with a whiff of fresh mountain air. A very welcome change in today’s polluted Delhi scenario 😊!

Every page of this intriguing murder mystery takes one deeper into forests and higher into mountains. This is one of the reasons that I loved reading it as much as l did.

This is also the first introduction by author Udayan Mukherjee to a rather elegant detective, Neville Wadia. Who I definitely want to see more of!

Wadia, an ex- supercop, has chosen a quiet, idyllic life in a small hamlet in the Himalayas called Birtola. But his peaceful existence comes to an abrupt end with the gruesome murder of a friend and activist, Clare, near a bubbling mountain brook,forcing him to don the mantle of being a detective once again.

This event brings the sleepy village of Birtola to a rude awakening and becomes a perfect setting for an unputdownable ‘whodunit’.

What rings true for this book is the love of the author for his beloved mountains. Through his depiction of them, he ensnares us into imagining us being there, walking those narrow mountain paths, making our acquaintance with simple hill people and becoming a part of their life.

The murder itself and the varied characters introduced within the story as possible suspects keeps one turning the pages and second-guessing the writer.

Like Udayan’s previous book, Dark Circles, which was family centric, I found this book, well written though simple in language and vocabulary. It’s almost like he’s testing his writing chops before really plunging into the writer in him.

Personally, I can’t wait for his next book and see where he takes us with his imaginative forays!

Balzac & the Little Chinese Seamstress – Dai Sijie

I bought this book because I thought the cover would make a great subject for a watercolor painting 😊. (Still haven’t got down to doing that 😐)

This quaint novel was the debut offering by Chinese author, Dai Sijie. It was originally written in French and later translated into English in 2001. It was extremely well-received and went on to win several awards. It has been translated into many languages.

What works for this small book is the effervescent and youthful energy of the two protagonists, Luo and his best friend, the narrator.

It gives an insight into China and the Cultural Revolution of Chairman Mao that resulted in the exile of thousands of young children of educated, professional parents to far off villages for “re-education” amongst peasants.

The boys find themselves in Phoenix Mountain doing gruelling, wretched and back-breaking work. They are aware of invisible eyes following their every move waiting to latch on to any mistake they commit. Their entertainment in this rural setting is limited to the plaintive sound of the violin that miraculously evades detection from the authorities and the vivacious little Chinese Seamstress who’s attention they both crave.

Introduction of Balzac into their life is highly entertaining, and their love for the prohibited, written word is touching. The longing to read and escape into an imaginary and beautiful world coupled with the fear of being caught red-handed and the resultant punishment, have all been poignantly described.

Reading, and the freedom with which one reads, makes one forget the agony of those who are prohibited from doing just that. In the words of the narrator, as he describes the reason for tears in his eyes,

“It was not the Little Seamstress’s predicament that was making me weep…It was hearing the name of Fu Lei, Balzac’s translator – someone I had never met. It is hard to imagine a more moving tribute to the gift bestowed by an intellectual on mankind.”
Beauty of the written word needs an appreciative audience just as desperately as the reader needs a good book….This was my takeaway from this novel, along with the names of many other writers mentioned here, who’s names have been immortalised in the annals of classic literature and who I hadn’t put on my ‘tbr’ list, till now 😊

There is

In the core
A certain strength
That keeps
All the flowering petals
In beautiful harmony

I leave a page

For months
And I get back
Look at it
With new eyes
And it gives me hope…
Few things are
Ever completely lost
There is potential
As long
As there is

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