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Fieldwork
by Mischa Berlinski

Overview -

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 life sentence for murder.  Read more...


 
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More About Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski
 
 
 
Overview

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 life sentence for murder. Curious at first, Mischa is soon immersed in the details of her story. This brilliant, haunting novel expands into a mystery set among the Thai hill tribes, whose way of life became a battleground for the missionaries and the scientists living among them. Mischa Berlinski was born in New York in 1973. He studied classics at the University of California at Berkeley and at Columbia University. He has worked as a journalist in Thailand. He lives in Rome. A National Book Award Finalist
Longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary AwardThe "New York Magazine" Best Debut of the YearA "Los Angeles Times" Favorite Book of the YearA "San Francisco Chronicle" Notable Book of the YearA "Chicago Tribune" Favorite Book of the YearA "Seattle Times" Favorite Book of the YearA "Christian Science Monitor" Best Book of the YearA "Library Journal" Best Book of the YearA "Kirkus Reviews" Top 10 Book of the Year 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. "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."--Terry Hong, "The Washington Post"

" Berlinski is] a gifted storyteller delivering a simple story . . . "Fieldwork" is quite definitely a novel, exuberant and inventive, affectionate toward its characters but not indulgent of them. It has none of the cultivated flatness of modern reportage, and one of sparseness of line . . . It's a quirky, often brilliant debut, bounced along by limitless energy, its wry tone not detracting from its thoughtfulness."--Hilary Mantel, "The New York Review of Books
""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."--Terry Hong, "The Washington Post
""In a thickly plotted twist on the genre of aimless Americans seeking redemption abroad, Berlinski's freelance-journalist narrator (also named Mischa Berlinski) stumbles on the case of an anthropologist who killed herself in a Thai prison while serving a sentence for her inexplicable murder of a Christian missionary. Fascinated, Berlinski investigates the missionary and the anthropologist's shared interest in the spiritual and social life of a particular Thai village, presenting an enormously detailed account of the village as if it were a history of real events . . . The book succeeds in evoking the quixotic appeal of both the anthropological and missionary enterprises--of documenting other culture and of converting them."--"The New Yorker"
"Mischa Berlinski's first book, "Fieldwork," is that rare thing--an entertainingly readable first novel of ideas . . . Berlinski's narrative is brilliantly plotted and builds to a shattering but entirely credible conclusion. There's a particular authenticity attached to the settings and to the lives of the Dyalo, though they are a fictional people . . . What sets Berlinski's book apart from others like it is its utterly contemporary evocation of a compelling old dichotomy: faith and reason. Martiya, the anthropologist, speaks for that latter tradition, the missionary Walker family for the former. Both make their cases in an entirely American idiom, and it is the great strength of Berlinski's novel that he lets them do so on an intellectually level playing field on which two competing ways of understanding the world and its people contend . . . A less interesting writer would knowingly draw the irony implicit in the shared magical thinking of both the missionaries and the tribesmen. Berlinski, however, is too interested in both viewpoints to caricature either, and the result is a genuinely unsentimental empathy that gives his narrative its real propulsive force . . . Contains] a fearless generosity of spirit that refuses to take a side . . . "Fieldwork" is a notable piece of first fiction--at once deeply serious about questions of consequence and refreshingly mindful of traditional storytelling conventions. If his narrative sometimes bumps against a young writer's impulse to tell you everything he knows, it's a forgivable shortcoming, particularly when stacked against this n

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780312427467
  • ISBN-10: 0312427468
  • Publisher: Picador USA
  • Publish Date: January 2008
  • Page Count: 356


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Books > Fiction > Literary

 
BookPage Reviews

Fieldwork

Set in Thailand, this suspenseful thriller features a fictional young journalist named—like the book's author—Mischa Berlinski, who finds himself at the center of a mystery involving the death of an American anthropologist. Mischa comes to Thailand to join his girlfriend, Rachel, a schoolteacher. A seasoned freelance writer, he's initially excited by the prospect of investigating the anthropologist's story, but soon learns there's more to the incident than meets the eye. The anthropologist, a woman named Martiya van der Leun, was serving a 50-year prison sentence for murder when she took her own life in her jail cell. An outgoing Berkeley graduate, Martiya had been convicted of killing a missionary. Mischa delves into Martiya's past, only to become obsessed with her. Martiya's story leads him into an exploration of native Thai culture and the effects upon it of both missionaries and anthropologists—groups with different and often conflicting agendas. The author, who worked as a journalist in Thailand, writes with wonderful command about the country and its customs. He uses different types of fieldwork, both religious and scientific, to build a thematic foundation that is rich, complex and satisfying. A 2007 National Book Award finalist, this riveting novel is Berlinski's first—an accomplished narrative that has established him as a gifted new writer.

A reading group guide is included in the book.

 
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