Madhuri Vijay on Saturday won The JCB Prize for Literature for her maiden novel The Far Field. The 27-year-old is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Henfield Prize. She has also won the Pushcart Prize and her work appeared in several magazine and publications. She is presently based out of Hawaii and teaches at a school.
“The Far Field is an impressively ambitious novel of stunning emotional and psychological acuity. This deeply introspective story, located in troubled Kashmir, is also a panoramic exploration of our ideas and assumptions about nationhood. Rendered in visually evocative, lucid prose, and driven by a fragile but compelling narrator-protagonist, this tragic novel teems with unforgettable characters. We are proud to celebrate the arrival of a luminous new talent in Indian literature,” the jury said.
Other books competing for the honour included ‘Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction’ by Roshan Ali, There’s Gunpowder in the Air by Manoranjan Byapari (translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha), My Father’s Garden by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar and two of Perumal Murugan’s books — Trial by Silence and Lonely Harvest — translated from Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan.
In her thrilling first book, Vijay traces the journey of a 30-year-old woman, Shalini, who wants to learn more about her mother after the latter’s demise. Shalini’s journey takes her from Bengaluru to the troubled region of Kashmir after she gets convinced that her mother’s death is somehow connected to the disappearance of Bashir Ahmed, a Kashmiri salesman who used to frequent their house in her childhood. The Far Field stretches across three decades highlighting the problems of the troubled region.
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Vijay’s own experiences of growing up in Bengaluru and working in Kashmir between 2012 and 2016 at Haji Public School in the Doda district of Jammu & Kashmir helped her write the novel. She brought her experiences, her apprehensions and used them as undertones in Shalini’s character. Speaking to writer and journalist Prayaag Akbar after winning the prize, Vijay said, “What I wanted to try was to have a family living a very private life..and then juxtapose them against the huge geopolitical events. I was interested in where do these meet and if the dichotomy, in some ways, not a forced one. The more you look at it, the more all it starts to pixelate and you cannot differentiate between political and private.”
Through her work, she not just examines politics but also highlights the deeply-embedded prejudices that assume a darker shade when seen by an outsider.
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