Fieldwork
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Fieldwork

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  2,422 ratings  ·  618 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 356 pages
Published January 22nd 2008 by Picador (first published 2007)
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Kate
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
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
Debra
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 Reading Fieldwork is like discovering an unpublished Robertson Davies novel; as with Davies, you can't stop reading until midnight (good), and you don't hate yourself in the morning (better).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
Aj
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
Sunni
May 20, 2008 Sunni rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Jes
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
Ruth
Apr 12, 2008 Ruth rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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 &...more
Ken-ichi
Sep 23, 2013 Ken-ichi rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Jennifer
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
Doug Bradshaw
Jan 26, 2008 Doug Bradshaw rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition 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
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
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
Laura
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
Kristen
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
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
Zoe Zolbrod
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
Jill
Mar 19, 2008 Jill rated it 4 of 5 stars 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
Jane
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
Ritu
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
John
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.
Liz
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
Richard
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!
Larisa
Strange, and strangely compelling. Overall I liked the story and found most of the characters believable. I'd recommend it to friends interested in Thailand and/or anthropology. Do read the Acknowledgements/Afterward at the end of the book.
Igor
What happens when a novelist dabbles in the realm of ethnography? As Berlinksi mentions in the afterword, once he consulted an actual anthropologist and realized that the rituals of the locals can be as 'weird' as imaginable - he let himself concoct a fanciful, though entertaining and touching, story of hill tribes and missionaries and the intrigues that emerge when their lives intersect. Unlike some other commentators, I don't mind that he:
a) cast himself into the center of the plot or
b) gave...more
Al
Fiction that reads like a nonfiction crime exploration. Exotic setting, just enough suspense, interesting and picturesque.

Plus, now I really really want to go to Thailand.
Kim
I loved this book. I wish Mischa Berlinksi would write another novel. This book was excellent for a first novel. I can only imagine what future novels will be like. I can't wait.
Melissa
This was a National Book Award finalist, so I had high hopes. It is very, very exhaustive, so to that end, I give the writer credit. But it was a slow read, it took me a while to see Martiya as a "real" person and I didn't find myself itching to want to know what happened next. The Walkers seemed one-dimensional, and the timeline sometimes confused me. Still, I learned a lot about a part of the world I have never seen, and that is always a good thing in my mind, to constantly be stretching those...more
switterbug (Betsey)
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 changing it. This distracted me at times--it made it difficult for me to separate the author from the narrator, which is important in any book that is not a memoir or autobiography. I do think it would have been helpful if he had changed his name. I th...more
Lisa
The idea of this book fascinated me, but it fell a bit short of it's reputation. First, let me say that I hate the literary ploy in which a real-life author is the narrator of a supposedly true story -- but, psyche, it's actually fiction. Why not just pick a narrator?? He could have told the same story, but just not named the narrator after himself! I don't get this. It doesn't work for me - I spend the whole book wondering if the story actually happened, but they just minorly fictionalized it,...more
Bill
This came up for a book club I'm in, which of course means two things:

1- I probably wouldn't have chosen to read it on my own (that's why you join a book club, after all)

2- Rather than assuming my usual leisurely pace, I read it in three days.

Before I start, let me say that there seems to be a bunch of literature that seems overly burdened with facts and research. These books never seem to be captivated by flights of imagination; they are constrained by the need to expose and relay weirdly integ...more
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Mischa Berlinski studied classics at Columbia University and at the University of California at Berkeley.

Among other jobs, he has worked as a journalist in Thailand.

He lives in Rome.

His first novel, Fieldwork, is widely popular and has even been chosen as a book to read in school.
More about Mischa Berlinski...
Crime de Martiya Van Der Leun (Le)

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