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At Play in the Fields of the Lord

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  2,743 ratings  ·  252 reviews
In a malarial outpost in the South American rain forest, two misplaced gringos converge and clash. Martin Quarrier has come to convert the fearful and elusive Niaruna Indians to his brand of Christianity. Lewis Moon, a stateless mercenary who is himself part Indian, has come to kill them on behalf of the local comandante.Out of their struggle Peter Matthiessen has created ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published December 3rd 1991 by Vintage (first published 1965)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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 ·  2,743 ratings  ·  252 reviews

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Feb 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
My favorite book ever, at least so far as I recall. Protestant missionaries, Catholic missionaries, and a Lakota con-man turned his own sort of missionary in the Amazon jungle. Everyone's flawed, everyone has a plan to save the Natives, and everyone loses their minds a bit. The most likeable character turns out to be the hellfire and brimstone Protestant missionary. They made a good movie of it, too, but the scenes on mind-altering drugs don't work so well in there. Peter Matthieson is the man, ...more
Nov 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book twice, in 1989 in Africa and in 1996 in Brazil, then I spent five years among the Yanomami Indians and was able to experience many of the things described in the story.

I recently listened to the audiobook version and found it moving, fascinating and thought-provoking. Anthony Heald does a great job with voices and accents, speaks the Spanish parts well and does a good job rendering the Niaruna language.

As a story, it is brilliantly told; Matthiessen's prose is vivid and his ch
J.K. Grice
Oct 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: could-not-finish
The movie version of AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD was very good. However, the novel left a lot to be desired. The plot becomes too fragmented, and the characters are vague and mostly unappealing. For some reason, various books published in the late 60's or early 70's feel a need to show us characters tripping out on drugs or being affected by narcotics in some way. Okay, drug use was a sign of the times or part of the sub-culture during that time period, but so what? The drug induced states ...more
Jennifer Hughes
Dec 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
I realize this is an amazing piece of literature, but every time I pick it up, my heart breaks again. That is the mark of a brilliant author, but I just can't bear to keep feeling like this!

Prepare yourself, if you embark on this journey, for a descent into the worst outcomes for the evil and even the well-intentioned. This is a world of madness, hallucination, and multiple realities. The story is a kind of celebratory dance of darkness: crude language, addictions, lust, murder, genocide, rape,
Roger Brunyate
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
In the Heart of a Different Darkness

My only previous encounter with the late Peter Matthiessen was his final novel, In Paradise, which impressed me immensely. So I went back almost fifty years to this novel of 1965, and was thrilled to see many of the same themes, yet treated in a strikingly different way. The protagonist of In Paradise attends a conference on the site of Auschwitz; a Gentile among Jews, he is joined by those of other faiths and some of no faith at all, none of which emerges uns
Jun 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book can be read strictly as a great story; but it is hard for it not to resonate within myself at least on so many levels: finding oneself, the face of evil(man corrupted by greed and power--not a new concept by any means, but very well eximplified by characters and deeds perpetrated throughout the story as well as motives--some even done in the misguided perpetuation of good!) Feuding religous factions that are more interested in the how of accomplishing Christ's message of spreading the ...more
Apr 06, 2014 rated it liked it
I never was able to shake the feeling that there was something missing in this novel. Maybe it was a soul or heart that it lacked? Hard to say because it was, at times, quite beautiful, and the ending was very well done, but I felt empty after I was done with the book.

One of the biggest problems I had with the book was that the characters felt very thin. Even Moon, who was written as a 'complicated man' never jumped off of the page and no amount of discussion between Wolf and Andy at the end abo
I liked this book, a great story, and Matthiessen's description of life in the Amazon jungle and of the Niaruna is fascinating. At the same time, some of the writing is pretty (shockingly) hokey. So while I'd like to give this 4-stars, I can't quite do it.
Feb 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Imagine my surprise as I groped through the aisle of the library, seemingly in the "M" section when I came upon several of Peters books in the fiction section. I thought he only wrote nonfiction. I picked this book of the three or so offerings and laid it on the stack I was accumulating for the weeks reading.

As I began to read I immediately became sucked in and totally immersed in the story, the setting, the characters. It began to occur to me, about midway through, that this book reminds me of
Sep 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
For me, lots of books start out strongly and then fizzle out towards the end. This one, though, felt almost the opposite. It started out slowly, and I was dubious that I was going to like it, but it seemed to pick up strength as it went along, and by the time I finished, I loved it.

The subject matter is one that really fascinates me: isolated indigenous tribes. This particular one is in some unspecified place in South America. Probably Bolivia. The setting actually feels more like Brazil, but it
May 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
I've been wanting to read a Peter Matthiessen novel for such a long time. I started to read one several years ago - the one about Nepal - but after I'd read fifty pages I realized I would like it one day but that I couldn't concentrate enough to enjoy it then. I have fewer excuses and fewer distractions these days, so I persevered this time. Through the lines and lines of words, so many words. Sometimes I had to skim just to keep moving through paragraphs, which makes me think admire Matthiessen ...more
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What an overwhelming story - this novelist picks you up and turns you inside out. I would hesitate to criticize the sincerity of the Christian missionaries. From my Christian perspective I was intrigued by the verbal sword play between the "evangelicos" and the Catholic priest that the author meted out in various parts of the book, and I was reminded of the all too recent near-enmity between Protestant and Catholic branches of Christianity. On a different level, Lewis Moon's American Indian char ...more
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly insightful story raising the question of Christianity’s role in the genocide of Natives in South America. Powerfully well-written.
Sarah Sammis
Aug 01, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: released
Author Peter Matthessen is a naturalist and documentary filmmaker. At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a novel set in the Amazon. The same year he wrote the novel he also worked on the famous but somewhat controversial documentary Dead Birds.

At Play in the Fields of the Lord is another take on Heart of Darkness. A mercinary and a family of missionaries both come to a remote village for polar oppsoite reasons leaving the villagers in a tug of war. As with Conrad's tale, fantasticism ultimately
Oct 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Truth's darker side.
Recommended to Eugene by: Fate
A penetrating, visceral novel that plays out in a backwater hell-hole village deep in the Bolivian Amazon. The cast of characters includes fundamentalist Christian missionaries, a drunken and thoroughly debauched military commander, two professional mercenaries, and a tribe of pre-contact Amazonian tribesman. This amazing ensemble sets the stage for deep, and often profoundly disturbing insights into the nature of the human mind, the ambiguities surrounding moral behavior, and our capacity for b ...more
May 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first of Peter Matthiessen's fiction books I have read, having read a couple of his non-fiction books and enjoyed them.
I wasn't sure whether I would like this - but Matthiessen's characters, so flawed and so realistic, in the setting of the jungles of the Amazon amongst savage native Indians - fantastic stuff.

The infantile feuding between Protestant and Catholic missionaries, all either corrupt, fooling themselves, blinded to their own ambition, or miserable in themselves. A couple o
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting, real and captivating, but ultimately not my type of book. It's depressing and underscores man's worst aspects. Perhaps that makes it a good book but for me it was 3 stars. I simply thought it was not enjoyable.
Nov 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. Such earthily irreverent work reminds me of Tom Robbins at his best.

A family comes to Remate del Males to help expand the missionary founded by a young couple. The missionaries want to save the natives not only from their paganism but also from the catalicos who have been in the jungles of South America for hundred of years. The natives are particularly resistant to conversion and somewhat adept at playing both sides. And Lewis Moon is a Native American from South Dakota who leads a s
Feb 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
I agree with a previous reviewer that this is similar in theme to Conrad's Heart of Darkness. A group of American evangelical missionaries move to the Amazon to convert the natives. This is a dark story leaving the reader with more questions than answers. The prose is excellent (albeit lengthy at times) and the characters are well-developed.
The film version is superb and has an outstanding cast including a scene with Kathy Bates that is one of the greatest performances ever done on screen.
lark benobi
What an exuberant mess of a book! It galloped forward. So much happened. I mean, there is a sheer overwhelming flood of happenings in his book, assaulting the reader almost, at the pace of The Perils of Pauline, a series of "and-then, and then, and-then's"...

I loved that something so well written and so thoughtful and so philosophically rich could also be jam-packed with action. Ridiculous and great at the same time.
Abby Howell
Jan 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written book about missionaries in the rain forest of South America. The physical details are evocative and mesmerizing. There was a lot to think about as I read. For myself, I did not find a psychological connection to the characters, but Mattiessen is such a good writer, I was willing to step into their world and live it as they were living it.
Raegan Butcher
Apr 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
A flaming soul-wringer of a book. This tale of repressed and horny missionaries and crazed mercenaries pestering the wild Indians of South America contains more sweaty hysteria and seething malarial madness than Heart of Darkness or The Wages of Fear.
John Benson
Jun 15, 2020 rated it liked it
While there is a lot written about missionaries, there are not that many novels about them. The most recent may have been Barbara Kingsolver's THE POISONWOOD BIBLE. This book, written way back in 1965, explores the lives of two evangelical missionary couple, who want to set up a new mission with the Niaruna people deep in the heart of Amazonia. Along with their desire to bring the word of God to these people, in the jumping off town of Madre de Dios, are two American mercenaries who are there to ...more
Mar 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
A disturbing and compelling tale of multiple people in the South American jungle and their attempts, at best, to influence, and at worst, to destroy, an indigenous culture. The jungle itself plays a powerful figure in the lives of all the characters, as they struggle with their own issues. A very dark commentary on the roles of missionaries and mercenaries.
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of those worldview-challenging novels that I will return to regularly.
The 1991 film, memorable but sadly overlooked, and a pretty successful adaptation with a well-chosen cast, still can't touch the mastery of this novel. In fact, this is almost a textbook case of novel vs film as media. The film can give you the images (and it does, gorgeously) and it can add real-time depth to conversations and underscore certain scenes with the use of music and pacing (again, the film uses music reasonably well). What it cannot do, however, is give you the in-built contradictio ...more
Jan 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
I don’t know why this book rubbed me so totally the wrong way. Normally I love to get all riled up about the arrogance and audacity of missionaries and to lament the state of the world today because those people thought they were doing someone a favor by forcing Jesus on them. My Mom recommended this book to me when we were discussing Mosquito Coast and the Poisonwood Bible, both of which I loved. So why did this one not have the same effect?

The plot and cast of characters of this book were quit
Oct 27, 2010 rated it liked it
I must admit that I'm still digesting this book. It was little hard to get into, as events would take place for certain characters and then again from another perspective without the clearest of indications that this was happening. Once I did get into it however, it really became a fascinating book.

Though there have been many, many stories about missionaries trying to convert "savage" peoples to Christianity, from The African Queen to The Poisonwood Bible, At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a
Paddy Woodworth
Nov 21, 2015 rated it liked it
There are a lot of classic Mathiessen strengths in this novel: marvellous clarity and evocative power of portrayal of landscapes and animals; searingly honest vision of human frailties and social and religious hypocrisy; unpretentious and insightful meditations on the big moral issues, the co-existence of appalling suffering, awe inspiring beauty and a kind of ever elusive but crucial grace in the scheme of things. But there is some terribly clunky dialogue, none of the characters are close to a ...more
Forbes Willow
This book was very interesting, and had a lot of different sub plots going on that I found interesting. The plot was very similar to the plot of the movie Avatar, which was really funny. I didn't really like the ending at all, because the book just ended without a real explanation of what happened to the rest of the characters. It started out well, but was overall disappointing.
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Peter Matthiessen is the author of more than thirty books and the only writer to win the National Book Award for both non-fiction (The Snow Leopard, in two categories, in 1979 and 1980) and fiction (Shadow Country, in 2008). A co-founder of The Paris Review and a world-renowned naturalist, explorer and activist, he died in April 2014.

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24 likes · 1 comments
“You mean...” Billy exclaimed at last, “you mean...” – his voice rose high and clear – “you mean...” – and he jumped to his feet, and standing there under the giant trees, pointed at himself, a small outraged boy named William Martin Quarrier, aged eight: “You mean I just came crashing down into Ma’s under-pants?” 8 likes
“In the jungle, during one night in each month, the moths did not come to the lanterns; through the black reaches of the outer night, so it was said, they flew toward the full moon.” 7 likes
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