Book Review of Raghu Karnad’s Farthest Field

“People have two deaths: the first at the end of their lives, when they go away, and the second at the end of the memory of their lives, when all who remember them are gone. Then a person quits the world completely.”

The measure of all things echoes in the stories that are left behind. The photographs of history tucked away between covers and in old and oxidized jewelry boxes. Farthest Field, penned in bold and imaginative strokes, is a story of India’s role in the Second World War. The fabric of the book is non-fiction but the patterning that gives it a personality is a fictionalized acquaintance of 3 young men.

The story is in parts sketched out of the author’s faithful and passionate re-telling of his ancestry. So it’s not all fiction. The roots of history have been dug up and revealed to the reader through records, memoirs, and interviews. The book shoulders that weight from the start. Especially when the following words, “For my mother, who didn’t let me forget” are pasted on the book’s dedication page.

This is history like you’ve never matriculated in school before. It’s factual, gripping, but oftentimes, a bit stretched to the extremes. But if you keep at it, the story sinks in deeper and stays there as something you aren’t forced to learn before understanding, as most of us did when learning about our history for the first time.

You can think of this story as “imperfect, live flesh drawn over skeletons rebuilt from scattered bones.” But what it also is is a quick and captivating read. Heavy with grief, loyalty, and courage rather than sacrifice. The kind that pulls you closer to home as you fathom a seedbed of humanistic force and conviction.

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