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3.62  ·  Rating details ·  3,927 ratings  ·  817 reviews
A daring, spellbinding tale of anthropologists, missionaries, demon possession, sexual taboos, murder, and an obsessed young reporter named Mischa Berlinski.

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 e
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2007)
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Left Coast Justin That was answered in the final pages of the book.

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Average rating 3.62  · 
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 ·  3,927 ratings  ·  817 reviews

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May 11, 2008 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
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
May 16, 2010 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
Apr 07, 2008 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
Mar 13, 2011 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
Aug 09, 2008 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,
Sep 18, 2013 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
Nancy Oakes
In an afterword to this novel, the author notes that at first he was going to write a nonfiction book about Christian missionary work among a Thai native tribe, but then changed his mind. I'm so glad he did.

Fieldwork is one of those rare novels that comes along in which the quality of writing is simply exquisite. The story is good, well plotted and holds throughout the novel, and the thread of continuity never gets lost among the details. It's also obvious that the author did a great deal of re
Oct 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Fieldwork is rich in scene and setting, and from the very beginning has this intriguing thread that makes the reader want to continue. Then Berlinski, who inserts himself into the story (but somehow still fictionalized?) departs completely from this thread to detail four generations of an American missionary family in southeast Asia... for a good chunk of the book. Not a single mention of the first story - this Dutch/Indonesian/American anthropologist in prison for murder - until over the halfwa ...more
Mar 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This story was excellent... so rich and complicated and layered and delicious to read. The anthropologists in this story doing "fieldwork" studying tribes, culture and human behavior were awe-inspiring. The author himself was clearly an anthropologist of sorts and this novel seemed a study of the intricacies of human beings and he seemed driven by a deep curiosity about why someone is compelled to do something. I happily went along for the ride. The only reason I am not giving this five stars is ...more
Left Coast Justin
I once read that Dean Koontz spends nine hours a day locked up in his writing office, and has done this every day for decades. No wonder his books stink! He does not engage with the real world.

Contrast that to this brilliant piece of fiction, which tells three separate stories about three different cultures with absolute precision. The first story is that of the narrator -- a modern Westerner wrestling with entirely relatable problems of employment, career advancement, laziness, marital issues (
Doug Bradshaw
Jan 26, 2008 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
Mar 26, 2008 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
Apr 06, 2008 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 & degrees o ...more
Zoe Zolbrod
Mar 22, 2010 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
Apr 18, 2008 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!
Apr 18, 2015 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.
This book was a finalist for the 2007 NBA in fiction. It has been in my TBR audiobooks since 2011 but now it can be moved to the read list.

The author is the narrator of the book (not of the audiobook, but they guy whose telling us the story in the book). In the book, he is a halfhearted journalist/writer living in Thailand with his girlfriend when he hears a story from his friend Josh about an American woman - Martiya van der Leun - in a Thai prison for murder. Josh thinks Misha might find it f
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
David Donald
Oct 15, 2013 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
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
“The only way to satisfy the Curiosity and understand the Very Strange Thing was to stay on the island and ask more questions. The literature of anthropology is absolutely thick with such stories: the exotic location, the deep boredom, the malarial fever, the muffled cry--”As God is my witness, I will get off this rock!”--then some small element in the local culture that quickens the pulse. The unpleasantness of the local life is forgotten or ignored as the Curiosity takes hold; a hitherto-unkno ...more
Jan 20, 2008 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
Jul 10, 2016 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
Stacie  Haden
3.5 stars.
Cons: I'd have given an extra star if the Walkers weren't so reminiscent of some of my in-laws, way too much like them.
I also don't like when a book acts like non-fiction and then reveals itself to be otherwise in the afterward.
Pros: Despite the fiction account, it was researched and it makes you think of the world, "the sheer wonder and diversity of it's inhabitants!"
I like it when a book leads you to think on something that may never have crossed your mind. i.e, I'd never considered
Oct 07, 2009 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.
Excellent book...made me feel as though I was at the narrator's side, piecing the story together.
Paul Cornelius
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thailand is the setting for Mischa Berlinski's Fieldwork. But modern Thailand plays the most minor and unimportant role of the three scenarios Berlinski depicts. Of the three, the fictional Dyalo, a remote hilltribe in Thailand's far north is the most interesting. Taking the perspective of an anthropologist who has situated herself among them, the novel is fascinating not only for the rituals it examines and the utterly exotic ways it explains but also for its incorporation of mostly unheard of ...more
Jos M
Solid, engrossing literary thriller, exploring the reason for the murder of a missionary by an anthropologist amongst hill tribes in northern Thailand. There were a lot of strong elements to this -- the sense of a the sweep of history amongst a people who are quite remote from the whys and wherefores of the Cold War; the family saga of the Walkers in the "Orient" and their gradual enrichment; the exploration of being a missionary versus being an anthropologist and whether the fact that missionar ...more
Jerilu Breneman
Nov 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Several of these reviews mentioned how Berlinski skips around. We are in his life, then we learn about Malinowski, then a family of missionaries etc. The main story line meandered through all that like water through a rice paddy. Each story was told in a way that engaged me, enlightened me and sometimes amused me. I laughed out loud several times - always a good sign. His creation of an entire culture was impressive and reminded me of Ursula Leguin, the most profound culture-creator of all time ...more
Danielle McClellan
Jul 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Beautifully written book, fantastic narrative hook, but I found the ending disappointing. I was fully with the author 3/4 of the way through, but afterwards had that sinking feeling: wait, what just happened? It felt a bit hocus-pocusy to me. I will think about this and perhaps revisit my immediate conclusions, but my gut response is--nope, don't buy it. 3.5.
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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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