The Far Cry, Paperback
4 out of 5 (8 ratings)

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Review by
4.5

In September 1946 23-year-old Emma Smith set sail for India, to work as an assistant with a documentary unit making films about tea gardens in Assam. She was dazzled by India …‘I went down the gangplank at Bombay, and India burst upon me with the force of an explosion.’… and she wrote down as much as she could about her experiences because she so wanted to pin down the wonder of it all.A few years later she would use what she remembered and what she wrote as the foundation for a wonderful, wonderful novel that would go on to with the James Tate Black Award for 1949‘The Far Cry’ tells the story of 14-year old Teresa Digby. She’s an introspective and rather award child, and I think it’s fair to say that she is what her circumstances made her. When her parents’ marriage broke down her mother left her to go to America and her father left her for his sister to bring up. Teresa’s aunt wasn’t unkind, she was bringing her up as well as she could, but she lacked warmth and she lacked empathy.When he learned that his wife was returning to England, and that she wanted to see her daughter, Mr Digby decided that he would take her to India, to visit his daughter from an earlier marriage, who was married to a tea planter. It wasn’t that he was interested in his daughter, it was just that he didn’t want his wife to have her.He was a self-absorbed, dull-witted man who could never be the man he wanted to be or have the roles in life he wanted to play, but who would never acknowledge that, even to himself.It’s telling that he remains Mr Digby from his first appearance to his last,His sister knew his weaknesses, knew what he was lacking, but she believed that she had played her part and it was time for him to play his.“He polished off this diplomacy and his visit with a kiss that landed haphazard on the nearest part of her face, and so left. Such kisses are interesting. For it might be thought that lips which had once, so any years before given off those dark flames of roses must always at a touch bestow a scent, the merest whiff, a pot-pourri of passion. But no, nothing like it.”The relationship between between father and daughter is awkward, they are uncomfortable with each other. They don’t know each other, they don’t particularly want to know each other. He disdained her awkwardness as she dealt with so much that was unfamiliar – getting in and out of taxis, eating in restaurants, holding on to things like gloves and tickets – but she struggled through, and she came to realise that in attaching so much importance to such things and in not understanding how new and strange things must be for her it was her father who was lacking.“Teresa, who had watched defeat and then recovery first line and then illuminate his face, observed the breach in his armour: he was old, and therefore weak. And she was young, with her strength growing. Age shook him as fiercely as he had yesterday shaken her in the street. Thoughtfully she ate her breakfast. That she had seen his weakness and was bound to take advantage of it was a tragedy, and a tragedy that the only alternative to his conquering her seemed to be for her to conquer him.”When they set sail for India Teresa find a role and her confidence grows a little more. She helps with young children, and she formed a tentative friendship with Miss Spooner, an elderly spinster who was travelling to visit her sister. Her father lacks a role, and is left to worry over mosquito nets and play the occasional game of piquet.In India though the story that had played out in London would play out again. Teresa was overwhelmed and that made her awkward, leaving his father to organise and mange their progress. He was ineffectual, and so Teresa stepped forward, with the interest in the strange new world they were encountering.The early pages of this novel were an intriguing character study, so well done that even seemingly unsympathetic characters became interesting, but in India there would much more. Through Teresa’s eyes I saw the wonders of India, and I was as smitten as she was and as Emma Smith had been. She caught so many impressions so very, very well.“Teresa’s head was full of sound and colour. Her head was a receptacle for tumbled rags of impression, rags torn from exotic garments that could never be pieced entirely together again; but the rags were better.”The sea voyage, the journey though India, the feelings of strangers in a strange land are caught perfectly; every detail, every description feels so right.In Assam Teresa meets the older half-sister her father adores.Ruth is a beauty, she had been told that since she was a child, but her tragedy was that she was so caught up in presenting that image to the world, that she had lost the woman she really was. Edwin, her husband adored her, she wanted to tell him how she really felt, but she lacked the courage to tarnish the façade she had worked so hard to create.It’s a compelling, heart-breaking, horribly believable portrait.The presence of her father and her half-sister unsettles Ruth’s world; Teresa didn’t realise, she was caught up with new experiences and impressions.There was a tragedy and Ruth thought that it might offer her an escape. Maybe it did ….Sadness and hopefulness mingle in the end of this storyThere is so much that makes it special.Smith’s prose really is gorgeous. It’s distinctive, it’s right, and the descriptions so lovely and they catch every sensation. She follows the journey and she manages the both the day-to-day and the set pieces wonderfully well.“Lights, no bigger than the candles on a Christmas cake, fringed every balcony, every wall, every stall, every hovel, a multitude of tiny red flames flickering alive in the huge dark night. They were still being lit: glistening haunches bent forward, hands poured a trickle of oil into saucers…The warm air was soft with sorrow. They trod among the muddy unseen ashes of the dead. Widows lay along the slushy steps, prostrate in grief, or crouched forward silently setting afloat their candles in little boats of tin the size and shape of withered leaves.”The characters and relationships are captured beautifully; with the understanding and the empathy that they lack.The direction that the plot takes is unpredictable; it isn’t contrived, it twists and turns as life does,And everything works together beautifully, in this profound story of people alive in the world.“India went on and on, on and on, as though it had no end, as though it had no beginning, as though seas and shores and other continents were only part of a feverish dream, as though this was the whole world and nothing exited beyond it; a world fat and dry on whose immense surface, far apart from one another, dwelt men and their beasts, living and dying together, generation after generation.”

Review by
3.5

This novel was a bestseller in the 1940's, propelling its young writer to short-lived fame at a very young age. The novel has been out of print for decades and was only resucitated recenty by Persephone Press. It's an odd book about a strange young girl travelling to India with her father. I find the novel more interesting as a travelogue rather than for its plot which wasn't very remarkable. It's well-written though and it's surprising that it was written by a woman in her twenties.

Review by
4

This is a strange but very interesting (and well-written) book first published in 1949 and revived by Persephone Books. A shy and rather fragile teenage girl, Theresa, is abruptly whisked off to India by her self-aggrandizing father, ostensibly to visit her half-sister who is married to a tea planter, but in fact to prevent her mother from claiming custody (and, we surmise, to bring a bit of excitement into his dead-end life). Smith herself travelled to India in 1946 - before that the furthest she had been from home was a wartime job on a canal boat in the Midlands. She kept a detailed diary of the journey, which I think is visible in the vivid descriptions of the trip - we see this first on the voyage out, whether she's describing the ship's dining room: "full of children and from them arose a continual overtone of massed wailing. Like a sea-spray it hung above the dozens of white tablecloths ... for fourteen days that chorus prevailed", or the Saharan sand being blown onto the deck as they approach North Africa. But in particular, the descriptions of India feel genuinely fresh - probably because in 1946 she had no idea what to expect and was not writing with a vision shaped through other travellers' reports. The developing relationship between Theresa, her father, and the others around her is poignant and compelling, despite (like the inner lives of other characters) being set out in remarkably (and deceptively) simple and concise language. This is one of those books where an inattentive reader could almost miss a sentence which unflinchingly illuminates the depths of a personality.The vivid surroundings and the painful human relationships do sometimes feel like two different books, though - and there are elements of other books too, like the brittle-wit social comedy of the relationships formed on board ship or between the planters. That's why I describe it as a strange book. But very much worth investigating, for both the main elements.

Review by
4.5

The Far Cry was inspired by the author’s experiences in India. In 1945, at the age of 21, Emma Smith (who describes herself as “a green young woman” in her preface to this edition) traveled to India with a film production crew as a junior script writer/gopher. While she was there, Smith kept a journal of her experiences and thoughts to detail her “magical Cinderella-like transformation” into a worldlier person. In the preface of the novel, Emma Smith writes brilliantly about what kind of impact her travels to India had upon her, a first-time visitor. What she wrote in her journal went largely into the writing of this novel; and the stronger it is for it, I think, because this is an absolutely stunning book.When Mr. Digby’s ex wife returns from America, he’s absolutely certain that she’s coming to take their daughter, Teresa, away from him; and so he pulls her out of school in order to go to India, where Mr. Digby’s other daughter from a previous marriage, Ruth, lives with her husband. The novel’s progress takes its reader on the boat journey out to India; to Bombay; to Calcutta; and then, finally, to Assam near the Naga hills, where Ruth’s husband, Edwin, is a tea planter.My goodness, what a gorgeous book! I’ve never been to India, but this novel certainly makes me want to go. The people and places of India are described in painstaking detail, as only a first-time visitor to India could describe it. They’re probably some of the best descriptions of India written by a Westerner that I’ve ever read (Emma Smith is right up there with MM Kaye in that respect, though they wrote about different time periods and people). In a sense, though, The Far Cry is a novel not so much about India as it is about India as it's experienced by the British.Emma Smith is especially skilled at describing various foreigners’ experiences in India: Ruth and Edwin, who have lived in India for a while and are sort of immune to the place; Teresa, experiencing the angst that comes with adolescence; and the downright boorish Mr. Digby, who imagines something greater for himself than life has given him. The novel is populated with a number of other, minor characters as well: the elderly yet intrepid Miss Spooner; Richard, Edwin’s second-in-command; or Mr. Littleton, who believes implicitly in the superiority of the British over the natives. There’s also Sam, an Indian fellow whose happy complacency instantly warms the reader’s heart. There are a couple of unlikely coincidences in this novel (i.e., running into Miss Spooner by chance in Calcutta, of all the people you could run into in a city of that size), but other than that, I absolutely adored this novel.

Review by
4

An splendid coming-of-age story rediscovered by the great publishing house Persephone Books. It tells the story of Teresa, a 14 year old, taken to India by her elderly father to avoid the girl's mother, whom he divorced, who is claiming the custody back. It contrasts Teresa's awakening to aesthetic beauty and the complexities of adult life to the cowardly, petty, self-deceiving adults that surround her. Smith's narration alternates between their different points of view, offering a multi faceted vision of the story. The visual descriptions are excellent, as well as her use of metaphor.The book avoids ham-fisted, cliched East/West symbolism, and offers a subtle portrait of India and the Raj through impressionistic detail.

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