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 Thailands 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 deada suicidein 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 Martiyas crime. His search leads him to the origins of modern anthropologyand into the family history of Martiyas victim, a brilliant young missionary whose grandparents left Oklahoma to preach the Word in the 1920s and never went back. Finally, Mischas 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 tabooscientific, religious, and sexual. It announces an assured and captivating new voice in American fiction.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.-
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by 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
Rated of 5
by 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
Rated of 5
by 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.
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
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
transit system known as the
Skytrain and massive stretches of
elevated roads that whisk traffic in and
out of the city (I recollect that we
traveled on one such continuously
elevated road for more than 40 miles!);
while down below the city...
Inspired by the lives of the author's maternal grandparents - City of Tranquil Light is a tender and elegiac portrait of a young marriage set against the backdrop of the shifting face of a beautiful but torn nation.
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