Jessica's Reviews > Fieldwork

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski
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's review
May 16, 2009

really liked it
Read in May, 2009

Fieldwork is the story of a journalist who becomes obsessed with the story of an anthropologist. Both the journalist (who inexplicably has been given the same name as the book's author, Mischa Berlinski) and the anthropologist (Martiya van der Leun) are Americans who have ended up living in Thailand. Martiya went there to do fieldwork as part of her doctoral studies; Mischa went because his girlfriend signed up to teach English there for a year. Early on, we learn that Martiya killed a missionary and died in prison; Mischa senses a paycheck if he can write a story about her, and he spends the length of the novel trying to uncover Martiya's history.

Know upfront that this is a very slow book. Not in that it takes a long time to read, but in that the action in the story is very, very slow. Mischa doesn't learn a lot until the very end, and most of the novel deals with the people he meets along the way and the stories he learns about the missionaries and the tribal people of northern Thailand. It's a very pleasant book to read, but the first couple of chapters are not an adequate representation of the pacing of the rest of the novel. Don't be startled when it shifts suddenly from young, carefree Americans enjoying Thailand to a genealogy of the missionary family whose son Martiya eventually kills.

The ending is the weakest part of this story; the way the final details are revealed is, well, let's just say unsatisfactory. But the pieces do all come together in the end, and the whole thing is really quite interesting in the way it wrestles with cultural differences and the roles & impact of anthropologists and missionaries. It's a flawed book, but still quite an enjoyable one.

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