Summary and book reviews of Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski

Fieldwork

A Novel

By Mischa Berlinski

Fieldwork
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2007,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2008,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

When his girlfriend takes a job as a schoolteacher in northern Thailand, Mischa Berlinski goes along for the ride, working as little as possible for one of Thailand’s English-language newspapers. One evening a fellow expatriate tips him off to a story. A charismatic American anthropologist, Martiya van der Leun, has been found dead—a suicide—in the Thai prison where she was serving a fifty-year sentence for murder.

Motivated first by simple curiosity, then by deeper and more mysterious feelings, Mischa searches relentlessly to discover the details of Martiya’s crime. His search leads him to the origins of modern anthropology—and into the family history of Martiya’s victim, a brilliant young missionary whose grandparents left Oklahoma to preach the Word in the 1920s and never went back. Finally, Mischa’s obsession takes him into the world of the Thai hill tribes, whose way of life becomes a battleground for two competing, and utterly American, ways of looking at the world.

Vivid, passionate, funny, deeply researched, and page-turningly plotted, Fieldwork is a novel about fascination and taboo—scientific, religious, and sexual. It announces an assured and captivating new voice in American fiction.

Chapter One

“GOOD GOD, NO”

WHEN HE WAS A YEAR out of Brown, my friend Josh O’Connor won a Thai beach vacation in a lottery in a bar. He spent two weeks on Ko Samui, decided that Thailand was home, and never left. That was at least ten years ago, and since then, Josh has done just about every sort of odd job a foreigner in Thailand can do: He taught English for a while, and was part owner of a nightclub in Phuket. He was a stringer for one of the wire agencies, and he took a few photos now and again for Agence France-Presse. Josh played the trumpet in the marching band in high school, and he parlayed the experience into a few years as the frontman for a Thai ska band called the King’s Men. He founded a dating agency. He worked for a time for an environmental group attempting to stop construction of a large dam across the Mekong, and when the effort failed, he wrote publicity materials for a cement exporter. He hinted that many years ago, in ...

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About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about Fieldwork are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Fieldwork.


About the Book
When his girlfriend takes a job in Thailand, Mischa Berlinski goes along for the ride, planning to enjoy himself and work as little as possible. But one evening a fellow expatriate tips him off to a story: a charismatic American anthropologist, Martiya van der Leun, has been found dead--a suicide--in the Thai prison where she was serving a ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Berlinsky's excellent first novel is notable on a number of counts, not only does it provide a wealth of highly readable information about the hilltribes that are spread across the area known as the "Golden Triangle", that overlaps the mountains of four countries (Burma/Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand) but it also provides a study of two other cultural groups that are a mystery to most of us - missionaries and anthropologists!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Terry Hong

With its offbeat style, Berlinski's consummate fieldwork -- fictional though it may be -- produces an intricate whodunit, both disturbing and entertaining. Even as he confesses to feeling "like the baton in a relay race of faulty memories and distant recollections," Berlinski meticulously unearths Martiya's "good story," taking readers on an intoxicating journey filled with missing souls and vengeful spirits.

Entertainment Weekly - Stephen King

Under the drab title and drab cover, there's a story that cooks like a mother. It's called Fieldwork.

Publisher's Weekly

Buried within the excess verbiage is a lean, interesting tale about, among many other things, the differences between modern and tribal cultures.

Booklist - Brad Hooper

The reader learns a great deal about fieldwork but significantly less about the effortless integration of fact into fiction. In this, Berlinski is somewhat clumsy.

Library Journal

Berlinski the novelist manages to inject just enough arcane information about tribal Thai culture to be informative but not tedious, all the while employing an admirably lighthearted sense of humor.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Berlinski's methodical account of the factors that led a rational intellectual to commit such a heinous crime is air-tight and intensely gripping. But equally notable is his ability to conjure such an elaborate portrait of the fictional Dyalo, and his treatment of both religious missionary and anthropological fieldwork is subtle and insightful. Impeccable research and a juicy, intricate plot pay off in this perfectly executed debut.

Author Blurb Nigel Barley, author of The Innocent Anthropologist
The West has long equated exotic peoples with the dark and the wild. It is the strength of Mischa Berlinski's novel to chart those elements in the heart of the anthropology that seeks to explore them. He turns received ideas on their heads, for he makes us unsure about the things we thought we knew while showing us truths that we like to hide from ourselves.

Author Blurb John Wray, author of CANAAN'S TONGUE
Mischa Berlinski brings a wealth of vivid detail to his narrative, and writes with real authority. FIELDWORK is as fascinating as an ethnographer's private journal, as entertaining as a finely plotted thriller.-

Reader Reviews
Elizabeth

Yes, but ...
OK the Dyalo ritual was central to the Dyalo way of life. It consisted of men traveling to villages other than their own - (not giving anything away here!) -and helping the women plant rice in their own (i.e. the women's own) fields. Yet when the ...   Read More

Betsey Van Horn

Flawed but brimming with an unforgettable character
I appreciated and enjoyed Berlinski's novel that infuses scholarly information on anthropology with a suspense story set in rural Thailand. It is written in a memoir form (although it is fiction). I did wonder why he used his real name rather than ...   Read More

K. Yuhas

Give this first novel a try
This is a very interesting and enjoyable first novel. The mystery is compelling and well-plotted and the scenes of Thailand are beautifully done. Mr. Berlinski is a very talented writer and I look forward to his next book.

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About Thailand (map)
A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. Thailand allied itself with Japan during WWII but has been an ally of the US since.

It is a land of many contrasts; endless beaches in the south attract tourists in droves. The capital city of Bangkok boasts state of the art transportation such as the elevated mass ...

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