The Far Field

11 CDs. Dreamscape Audio. Jan. 2019. 14 hrs. ISBN 9781974930067. $39.99. F
Sometimes, pushing "stop" before a book's end might be the best course of action. Seasoned reader Sneha Mathan provides her usual nuanced, affecting narration throughout the 14 hours here, yet even her resonating performance can't prevent the frustration of a stupendous story that veers fatally toward abject disappointment. Still living at home in Bangalore, India, with her widowed father, 30-year-old Shalini remains unmoored, unable to recover from her capricious mother's suicide. After being fired from her job, she heads to Kashmir—India's most politically unstable region—in search of a traveling salesman who used to visit her mother during her childhood; only with this man did her mother ever seem to be truly engaged and joyous. Despite having only the slightest details about Bashir, Shalini miraculously finds his family in a remote Himalayan village and is welcomed by the charming daughter-in-law, who offers Shalini her first experience of true friendship. Vijay's debut is initially—mostly—a gorgeous narrative of love and loss, hope and betrayal, intertwined with a hauntingly insightful introduction to a population constantly under threat.
VERDICT That breathtaking story—even enhanced by Mathan's empathic reading—turns sucker-punch when Shalini's naïve entitlement and blinding privilege lead the story into devastating predictability. ["Narrating Shalini's journey in chapters that alternate between past and present and utilizing strong characterizations throughout, Vijay has crafted an engaging, suspenseful, and impressive debut": LJ Winter 2018 review of the Grove hc.]
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