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Fieldwork

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3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  3,090 Ratings  ·  707 Reviews
Berlinski's mesmerizing first novel blurs the line between fact and fiction. A young American couple living the expatriate life in Thailand, Mischa and Rachel struggle to keep one step ahead of insolvency. Rachel works as a first-grade teacher; Mischa is a freelance journalist. When they meet up with a bibulous fellow expat who regales Mischa with the tale of a mysterious ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2007)
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Best Books on Asia
81st out of 675 books — 476 voters
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Books Stephen King Recommends
129th out of 183 books — 147 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Natalie
This is a freaky little book with its twisting turning perspective, a novel that reads like a first person memoir of the motive for another person's killing. I didn't trust the form or the narrator . . . but the Grateful Dead parking lot scene seemed genuine, so I thought I'd better have a look at what other people thought of it . . . what a mistake!

I think I will stick with my original response: I wish Mischa Berlinski's protagonist Martiya had to share a hotel room at a three day conference w
...more
Kate
May 11, 2008 Kate rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a strange, but intriguing work. The mystery and culture were both elegant and engaging, the characters well drawn and real. However, the author was self indulgent in several ways: most obviously by casting himself as the narrator and most notably by suddenly steering away from the main story to delve into a too-detailed family history that seems like it could have been its own novel--and not one I would have read. In the end, the author reveals that he is himself an anthropologist and t ...more
Sunni
May 20, 2008 Sunni rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Sunni by: Alicia
This was given to me as an audio download gift from my stepdaughter, an anthropologist. We both listened at the same time. She didn't like it (thought it was too superficial a depiction of the field of anthropology and the reader got on her nerves); but I loved it.

This story had me in its grip on so many levels. First, it is a murder mystery (which I love) and I found it set up and then unraveled in a very interesting way. The reader, through the protaganist, becomes the anthropologist as you pi
...more
Debra
Nov 19, 2011 Debra rated it really liked it
Stephen King recommended book. He says: "This is a great story. It has an exotic locale, mystery, and a narrative voice full of humor and sadness. Reading Fieldwork is like discovering an unpublished Robertson Davies novel; as with Davies, you can't stop reading until midnight (good), and you don't hate yourself in the morning (better). It's a Russian doll of a read, filled with stories within stories. The first belongs to the book's narrator, also called Mischa Berlinski. The fictional Berlinsk ...more
Jennifer
May 19, 2010 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-books
This is without a doubt, one of the best books I have ever read. This story of an anthropologist who murders a missionary in Thailand reads like the best journalistic nonfic, from the details of the remote Thai tribe's customs to the footnotes that referred to specific personal letters that belonged to the anthropologist. But here's the kicker--IT'S ALL FICTION. If I didn't have so many books on my TBR, I would read it again to see how the frick the author pulled off such a feat. And he's the sa ...more
Aj
Aug 09, 2008 Aj rated it really liked it
Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski is a well-crafted, absorbing novel that fuses travel, anthropology and mystery. In many respects it feels a bit like a Paul Theroux travelogue, albeit Berlinski is far kinder to most of his subjects. And while this is a work of fiction, the main character certainly bears a strong resemblance to the author in more than just name.

How do I know this? I worked with Mischa briefly in 2001. Though our ‘relationship’ can be, at best, characterized as a casual acquaintance,
...more
Jes
Mar 26, 2008 Jes rated it liked it
i picked fieldwork by mischa berlinski on the recommendation of my local independent bookseller. (since that’s how i found the history of love, it didn’t even occur to me that i wouldn’t utterly fall for this book too.)

it’s an interesting premise: mischa berlinski (and we could spend the rest of the afternoon discussing the implications of a novelist naming his fictional protagonist after himself), while in thailand with his girlfriend, stumbles on this improbable murder story. an anthropologis
...more
Doug Bradshaw
Jan 26, 2008 Doug Bradshaw rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes historical novels
A lot of hard work and research went into this excellent work of historical fiction. It is fiction, as the author reminds us at the end of the book and yet, the characters are so excellently described and brilliant that you could swear that this is a biography. The main character is a dedicated, unselfish, female anthropologist doing work with a tribe of Chinese/Thais in Northern Thailand. We find out early on that she may be involved in a murder and the author painstakingly researches her life ...more
Ruth
Apr 12, 2008 Ruth rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ruth by: Rodney Clapp
Shelves: recently-read
This novel (whose existence I learned of through Rodney's Goodreads, if I'm remembering right) was such a delight. With its thoroughness (e.g., some would say it spends too long on the various generations of the missionary family) it is a bit reminiscent of an anthropological study--appropriate to the story of a mysterious anthropologist-turned-murderer. But it's bursting with wonderful subplots & sensory details & really captures the strangeness of expatriate white Westerners' lives &am ...more
Ken-ichi
Sep 23, 2013 Ken-ichi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ken-ichi by: Tammy Lim
Shelves: snoot, thailand
The best way to get me to read something is to put a physical copy in my hands, which is what my friend Tammy did with this book, accompanied by the warning that this had nothing to with biology, as both the title and our shared predilection/obsession for that subject would suggest. So warned, I began, and was immediately swept into this wonderfully digressive semi-fictional portrait of expats, missionaries, and the hill tribes of northern Thailand.

What is and isn't fiction here was part of what
...more
Erica
May 03, 2015 Erica rated it did not like it
I'm pissed it took me so long to read this book. I would like all the time I spent reading it, added onto the end of my life - whenever that might be. This book could have been four pages. I still would have hated it.
Chrissie
In conclusion, I enjoyed reading this book simply because it was funny. It is NOT so much about Thai culture as about an anthropological study of Christian missionaries who finally ended up in Thailand. I NEVER would have chosen this book had I know this. It also looks at the 70s in the USA. The hippies epoch, the music of those times, the Grateful Dead. Remember them?

Neither did I appreciate that the author placed himself in the novel. This seemed like a gimmick.

So I feel tricked, but yes, it
...more
David Donald
Oct 15, 2013 David Donald rated it really liked it
While this is not a major work, Man/Booker will not be calling, it is a very interesting story. And not typical at all.

Particularly interesting for those who live or have lived in Thailand or ventured in the Golden Triangle of Burma, Thailand. S.W. China, Tibet. Or ever dreamed of going there. For me it was personally MUCH more interesting because my wife, daughter and inlaws are Lisu hill tribe members, which is the christianised cultural group of 750 thousand +/- that Mischa Berlinski had been
...more
Zoe Zolbrod
Mar 22, 2010 Zoe Zolbrod rated it it was amazing
A great read for anyone interested in Northern Thailand, this story within a story explores the tensions between a hill tribe based on the Lisu, an anthropologist who sets up permanent residence with them, and missionaries who have worked in the golden triangle region for generations. There’s a murder mystery and a mysterious cross-cultural romance, a dysfunctional-family back story and an expatriot’s-dilemma frame story, and through it all, Berlinski demonstrates a depth of knowledge about mult ...more
Laura
Feb 03, 2008 Laura added it
Shelves: novels
I honestly don't know how to rate this book. On the sentence level, it's no great shakes, but wow, is it a good story. As an anthropologist, I can't help but enjoy the fictive ethnographic detail, the references to famous and infamous "forefathers" (Malinowski, Pritchard, etc.), to the long, drawn-out saga of fieldwork, with its dislocations and its epiphanies. There's a fascinating way in which the obsessive Curiosity of the anthropologist gets mirrored in the obsessive search for answers by ou ...more
John
Oct 26, 2009 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting read. I liked how it kept me uncertain even after finishing it about what it was all about. Was it about the conflict between the anthropological desire to protect and understand cultures and the missionary desire to convert? Was it about how crazy strong belief can make you? Was it about how love (or is it lust?) can make you give up anything and everything? I don't think I'm supposed to have a firm handle on it.
Richard
Jun 02, 2008 Richard rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Meandering around like a man looking for peanuts in a desert, this book's less satisfying than an empty sandwich. I can see how the threads relate, but when the intriguing mystery gives way to a dull, slow, muddy walk through the pages, I couldnt enjoy it no more. Too much man rambling!
There are facts though! Little gems that are interesting enough. I'm gonna tell my friends about them!
Carol Peters
Apr 19, 2016 Carol Peters rated it liked it
I read nearly the entire novel with immense interest & curiosity. I've read a lot about both missionaries & anthropology, mostly first hand accounts, so this novel's mix of both had me captivated.

I kept wondering why it was a novel, but of course, it's a novel because it's fiction, as the author explains in a post note.

My lower than expected rating is because the finish, the solving of the mystery, is just so lame. Why build up such a wonderful female protag & then collapse her into
...more
Storyheart
Mar 05, 2016 Storyheart rated it it was amazing
Excellent book...made me feel as though I was at the narrator's side, piecing the story together.
Jeff
Sep 16, 2014 Jeff rated it it was amazing
Fieldwork is a fascinating novel; it is equal parts mystery, ethnography, drama, and spiritual. When I finished the book, and put it down, I smiled. The ending and resolution was quick, somewhat sudden, and perhaps not what I expected going in. Many would perhaps feel it was a let-down, that the "mystery" aspect was short-changed.

But I liked it. If nothing else, Berlinski is able to write a story that feels real, with characters that breathe and speak and act irrationally human. I'd put money on
...more
Ritu
Feb 03, 2014 Ritu rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
Very good beginning - right from chapter 1. Vivid descriptions. Made me hungry when reading the food descriptions. Story line - Author comes to visit Thailand with girlfriend. Gets introduced to a stranger who recounts a strange story about an American named Martiya, an Anthropology student who had come years ago to do fieldwork to study an ancient tribe Dyalo. She was in prison convicted for murdering an evangelist missionary named David Walker. Later, she was found dead in prison, apparently h ...more
Sue Bridehead (A Pseudonym)
I liked this book a lot, but it unravels too quickly at the end. I don't find Martiya's final undoing to be very convincing, nor inevitable. A tragic sense of doom should be hanging over her a lot more heavily than it does. Maybe the distance I'm feeling from the plot is due to Mischa Berlinksi's writing style -- he is very fast-moving and detached, like he's afraid to lose the reader's interest. This doesn't leave a lot of time for feeling characters' pain. (Also hard to feel the pain of a char ...more
Lauren
Aug 08, 2008 Lauren rated it liked it
In a way, this was high-grade guilty reading: travelogue and murder-mystery. The book dragged a bit in the middle and could have benefited from less time drawing out the native encounters of a graduate student and more time teasing out the conclusion. I was disappointed by characters who were all but forgotten in the end, but I think that would have mattered less if the book had maintained a faster clip.

The book was incredibly cinematic, but the payoff in the end was not what it could have been
...more
Alison
A facinating story, which really kept me interested. as the Author (who also uses his name in the book) states: "This novel began not as fiction but as a history of the conversion of the Lisu people of northern Thailand to Christianity. Then one afternoon, I woke up from a long nap with a plot in my head, and my history became a novel." Newly out of college, a young American journalist follows his schoolteacher girlfriend to a post in the hill country of northern Thailand. There, another expatri ...more
Beth
Jul 20, 2016 Beth rated it it was amazing
This was a weird and wonderful read, with insights into the lives of cultural anthropologists, missionaries, Grateful Dead tour groupies, and ex-pats living in Asia. What an odd mix, right?! The mystery of why an anthropologist studying the imaginary Dyalo culture in Thailand kills a Christian missionary working with the same people pulls you through a convoluted yet fascinating narrative peopled with interesting characters. I loved the writing, though I wish the denouement telling us the why of ...more
Liz
Mar 31, 2014 Liz rated it liked it
Fascinating tale of Northern Thailand near Burma--a contemporary journalist stumbles across the story of an anthropologist from the early 1970s who has ended up in a Thai prison for killing a missionary. So you have the small contemporary story of northern Thailand, the long story of a family of missionaries, the Walkers, who arrived in the late 1890s and have yet to be deterred from their mission (converting many along the way to their Christianity). And the story of this woman, Martiya VanderL ...more
Jill
Mar 19, 2008 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those crazy folk who enjoy religion and mystery (no--it's NOT "The Da Vinci Code!!")
Recommended to Jill by: Stephen King & his article "How to Kill a Book" in EW
In order to enjoy "Fieldwork," you must have an interest in world religions and spirituality. A good deal of the book observes the Dialo tribal rituals in Thailand.

I found the book to be interesting, rye and fast-paced. The only part I thought slowed down the book was the background of the Walkers--the missionary family whom Martiya visited and ultimately murdered youngest son David.

My suggestion is to listen to the book. I don't know that I would have caught the wit of the author through readin
...more
Victoria M.
Sep 01, 2015 Victoria M. rated it really liked it
Fascinating, utterly fascinating. A real expose about anthropology and sociology. Thailand sounds wonderful, nonetheless. The narrative arc was incredibly well done.
Jane
Sep 06, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it
Picked this one up to give it a look strictly because Anne V. suggested it. How would you react to a story about hill tribes in northern Thailand and a mystery about an anthropologist and some missionaries?!
What a fascinating story teller... I'm so glad I finished it. A unique approach with the author as first person expat, journalist, and casual detective. A wonderful consideration of religions and beliefs, between the ancient spirits of the tribe and the enthusiasm of missionaries. A page tur
...more
Leah Lucci
Jan 01, 2015 Leah Lucci rated it liked it
A guy’s girlfriend gets a job in Thailand teaching English to elementary school students. He, meanwhile, does freelance writing and loafs around. He becomes obsessed with the local legend of an anthropologist who murdered a missionary. He wants to know why she killed the missionary.

In the process, we learn about the history of the missionary’s family in Asia, the practice of anthropology, the anthropologist’s backstory, and the culture of a local tribe.

The writing is beautiful, but the plot is
...more
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Mischa Berlinski is the author of novels Fieldwork, a finalist for the National Book Award, and Peacekeeping. He has written for the New York Review of Books about Haitian politics, has tried to buy a zombie for Men's Journal, and investigated a woman who married a snake for Harper's Magazine. His writing has appeared in the Best American Essays and the Best American Travel Writing.

He is the reci
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