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The Far Field: A Novel of Ceylon Hardcover – April 7, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Before civil war-torn Sri Lanka became Sri Lanka, it was the British colony of Ceylon, and on this island off the coast of India Meidav focuses the ferocious, prodigious energies of her sprawling debut novel, a work that has been justly compared to the fiction of Ondaatje and Kingsolver. The year is 1936 and Henry Frye Gould leaves behind the spiritualist poseurs of New York society, as well as his wife and child, to go in search of a truly spiritual society. As a self-styled "anti-missionary," he sets sail for the Ceylonese village of Rajottama, his goal to create his own ideal Buddhist world, melding the best of East and West. Among the people who help and hinder Henry in his quixotic quest are Johnny, a charmingly precocious boy and secret British spy who becomes Henry's guide/confidant; his beautiful housekeeper, Nani, a village outcast and the object of Henry's affections; and a ham-eating monk who becomes Henry's mentor in Buddhism. Henry's utopia develops in fits and starts, but when tragedy strikes, things fall apart. The resulting disillusionment is intense, but redemption comes to Henry like a strange and unforeseen gift. In rugged, cadenced prose, Meidav delineates both the inevitability of human solitariness and the longing for the exoticism of the other. As in Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord, the novel skewers the cool superiority of the hubristic colonizing mentality. Hailed by the Voice Literary Supplement as one of its "Writers on the Verge" in 2000, Meidav succeeds on two levels, illuminating a rarely glimpsed culture and examining the tragic fallout of culture clash. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Apr. 7)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

An archetypal story concerns the misguided Westerner who immerses himself in non-Western culture. Planning to do good, he harms the people around him before eventually being swallowed up by the very culture he has come to reform. In her first novel, Meidav, chosen as one of the "Writers on the Verge" by the Voice Literary Supplement last year, explores this theme through Henry Gould, a refugee from the spiritualist salons of New York who has come to Ceylon in the 1930s to find a pure form of Buddhism as well as to create a model village. However, everything works against him, from the British, desperately trying to hold on to their empire in the face of German and Japanese imperialism, to the ubiquitous caste system, to the ethnic and religious enmities of the Tamils, Singhalese, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists not to mention Henry's colossal ignorance of the country he is trying to help. Meidav skillfully limns her characters the priests, drummers, dancers, village aristocrats, and Henry's own entourage while slyly exploring the complete miscommunication among them. Not only is this a good public library read but it also illuminates the roots of the seemingly endless ethnic strife in modern-day Sri Lanka. Recommended for public libraries. Andrea Caron Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st edition (April 7, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618013660
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618013661
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,510,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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The death of a father and Californian legacy:
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On David Foster Wallace for Scott Esposito's Conversational Reading.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Meidav's debut novel is a great book by a young promising author. As she takes you on this journey, and though she hints all along at the main character's trajectory, you are drawn into not only his world but into the inner lives of the villagers she depicts so successfully. Rather than romanticise the virtues of the east, Meidav trains her eye at a wide range of three-dimensional characters so that we come to see both aspirations and hypocrisies within American, English, and, yes, Sri Lankan culture. In this way, she truly gives another culture its due. Perhaps we find ourselves in many of the characters, all of whom I found engaging and rich in their human passions, all of whom I found true (if this is a useful word to apply in fiction) to a certain kind of subcontinental life, one that I was born into but which I have never seen so fully explored. Meidav's novel is a novel in the biggest sense of the word. It offers old-fashioned pleasures, a real world to enter, but with a contemporary pacing. It also lets the reader explore new ideas (about desire, grasping, human connection, cultures meeting and clashing) and does this all in a new style, something I have never quite seen before. Reading it, I thought about the truism that all original work will in its own time get scorned by those who are most interested in upholding convention. The book will appeal to those who have some interest in the East or Eastern culture, but also to those with an interest in what it means to be born within a certain culture and to travel away from it/toward it. It's not a history of Ceylon nor a scholarly study of Buddhism, but rather what struck me as an exploration of how hard it is for humans to connect and see one another across many divides, whether that of culture or of character.Read more ›
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Edie Meidav has made a fantastic debut. I didn't know what to expect, since I'm not particularly interested in Sri Lanka. For those who care about Asia, or Buddhism, there are plenty of fascinating descriptions and brilliant insights. However, even if you're not particularly interested in Sri Lanka, you should still read this exciting first novel. The Far Field is complex and challenging, but its rewards are great. At least if you're interested in the possibilities of fiction. Very rarely will you find such a rich and intense sensibility: bawdy, lyrical, philosophical, satirical, empathic and wildly imaginative. Each sentence is a pleasure. The publishers compare her to Ondaatje and Conrad, mostly because the novel concerns colonialism and Sri Lanka, but stylistically I dont' think she has much in common with them. Her true relations are to masters of ambiguity like Henry James and William Gaddis and Walter Abish. She's not interested in easy answers, but in refreshing the springs of aesthetic delight. If you want to read something flat and tidy, maybe this book is not for you; if you care about the art of fiction, and the renewal of the English language, then you must become acquainted with Edie Meidav's work.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It's extraordinary to think that this is a first novel. Ms. Meidav writes with such confidence, intellectual breadth, and lyric power that you feel like you're in the presence of a fine, mature writer. The book is long and, at times, difficult and dense, but if you like serious fiction, which makes you think and ponder the nature of human motivation, you will love and appreciate this book. The story and writing have a wonderful cumulative power that will you leave you awed by the imaginative range of the author. Ms. Meidav exhibits an ambition and daring that is so rare in contemporary fiction. You will be amply rewarded by the journey Meidav takes you on. I highly recommend this book.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
However, it is not what it's cut out to be. The use of Buddhist scripturtes to signal the start of different parts of the novel and so-called thematic unity was quite irrelevant to this novel. Comparisons with Melville or Gaddis are quite misleading as they are authors of exceptional power, complexity and difficulty. In the case of Ms Meidev you see the triumph of creative writing programmes (which one suspects she graduated from) which allow you to imitate the superficial characteristics of great writers who have no need for such programmes because they are gifted in the first place. This is not to say Ms Meidev has no talent, she does, but it is not the same; it is like saying Stephen King is as good as H.P. Lovecraft. Which is why though having been published myself and having taught creative writing, I don't think I ever want teach it again. This is a work that is a product of pure market forces: someone needs a Ondaatje read-a-like but with a different twist and so the publisher's list if fulfilled when they find one. The book is a good first effort, but there it remains. There is no serious character development, hardly any ambiguity that isn't forced and very little understanding of the people in Ceylon/Sri Lanka and what Buddhism means in their lives. This is more a work of an expatriate who lives in the East for awhile and returns to the West to write about their sojourn hoping to dispel the Occident's "easy" catgorisation of the Orient, but thereby ironically reinforcing that lack of understanding and empathy. Read Melville, Conrad, Green, Gaddis or Toni Morrison for a more authentic go at this.
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