Cover image for The far field : a novel of Ceylon
The far field : a novel of Ceylon
Meidav, Edie, 1967-
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Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
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584 pages ; 24 cm
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In the tradition of Conrad, Kingsolver, and Ondaatje, Edie Meidav weaves from the tragedy of colonialism an epic first novel of stirring intensity. It's 1936, the world is sliding into war, and Henry Fyre Gould has left behind the salons of New York City for the British colony of Ceylon, the tear-shaped island off the coast of India. Driven by an arrogant faith in his ideals and convinced of his heroic destiny, he storms into the village of Rajottama, determined to build a model Buddhist society.
Grand and intimate, witty and poignant, THE FAR FIELD is the story of Henry's education and transformation. He lands in a village that buzzes with colorful eccentrics: a mysterious sugar-voiced boy, Johnny, who serves as his aide; the Buddhist monk with a taste for potted ham; Pushpa Pilima, the sharp-tongued aristocrat and rebel. There is also Nani, Henry's beautiful and enigmatic maid, a center of controversy in the village and the object of the dreamer's infatuation. Expecting to winthe people's hearts with his various projects, Henry instead slowly begins to unravel. He discovers that his spiritual utopia is a tinderbox of conflict and suspicion, and his dangerous obsession and meddling plans finally strain tensions to the point of disaster, sending Henry on a hallucinatory journey toward salvation.
Fusing brave eloquence and sly humor, Meidav grapples with the consequences of the West's fascination with the East and explores the nature of faith and love. THE FAR FIELD, a singular work of sweeping imaginative power, introduces an original and important new voice in fiction.

Author Notes

EDIE MEIDAV was born in Toronto. She studied writing at Yale University and Mills College, taught fiction at the New School for Social Research in New York City, and has spent much of her life traveling and living in other countries. In 2000, Meidav was selected by the editors of the Voice Literary Supplement as one of their Writers on the Verge.""

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Henry Fyre Gould comes to Ceylon in 1936 to bring Buddhism back to a people he believes have been quashed by colonial rule. Leaving behind his job as a fraud inspector in New York, and also his wife and young son, he arrives in Ceylon and immediately meets Jehan, a Ceylonese boy, who offers to be his assistant. When they arrive at the house in which Henry is to stay, they are joined by Nani, a mysterious girl who sets herself up as a maid in the house. Henry is soon learning Sinhalese from an eccentric monk named Pandit, giving lectures on Buddhism, and opening a general store. But all is not as it seems: Jehan is actually a spy for the British, Pandit may be corrupt, and the Ceylonese do not trust Henry. But Henry obstinately pushes forward with his plans, until his own disillusionment, along with those working against him, threatens everyone he holds dear. Meidav's complex, rich debut novel is a challenging read, but it's well worth the journey. --Kristine Huntley

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.