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Fieldwork: A Novel Paperback – January 22, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A fictional version of the author serves as the narrator of Berlinski's uneven first novel, a thriller set in Thailand. Mischa Berlinski, a reporter who's moved to northern Thailand to be with his schoolteacher girlfriend, Rachel, hears from his friend Josh about the suicide of Martiya van der Leun, an American anthropologist, in a Thai jail, where she was serving 50 years for murder. As Mischa begins to investigate Martiya's life and supposed crimes, he becomes increasingly obsessed with the woman. The complications that arise have the potential to be riveting, but the chatty narrative voice takes too many irrelevant detours to build much suspense. Still, Berlinski, who has been a journalist in Thailand, vividly portrays the exotic setting and brings depth and nuance to his depictions of the Thais. Buried within the excess verbiage is a lean, interesting tale about, among many other things, the differences between modern and tribal cultures. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Mischa Berlinski originally intended to write an account of the real-life Lisu tribe of Thailand, but held scant interest in the project until he decided to fictionalize the natives and turned his research into a novel. In this readable and clever debut, told almost entirely in backstory, Berlinski explores the problems inherent in trying to assume the perspective of another person or culture and the enduring conflict between faith and science. While he treats each perspective with genuine empathy, he refuses to take sides. Critics had a couple of complaints—a lagging secondary plot and a few descriptions with a textbook feel—but dismissed them as minor. They unanimously praised Berlinski’s wit, style, and intelligence in this atmospheric "novel that never fails to fascinate" (Minneapolis Star Tribune).
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 356 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (January 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312427468
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312427467
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well-researched and excellently paced novel. I was fascinated by the level of detail and found the non-judgmental tone of the author refreshing. The novel ended up being an anthropological study of 3 separate tribes--the fictional Dyalo (who appear to be based on the Lisu tribe the novelist studied extensively--look on [...]), American Protestant missionaries, and the curious tribe that lives in figurative ivory towers who spend their lives studying other tribes. The author seems to suggest that the universal tragedy that serves as the basis for the murder mystery aspect of the novel is the result not merely a simplistic clash between East and West, but one that can happen to any peoples who do not share the same world view or to anyone in any culture subject to common human emotions.

Terrific read, and highly recommended. I look forward to Mr. Berlinksi's future literary output--maybe something set in Italy, or perhaps involving Haitian voodoo cults?
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By D. C. Carrad on May 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ten stars. Best book I have read in ages. The author's prose style is impeccable and transparent, and he tells an interesting story in a manner fair to all the overlapping and colliding worlds he describes (missionaries, anthropologists, hill tribes, Thais, and his own generation's Western wanderers in the East). This is worth a million grad school MFA seminar meanderings. Terrific reading; hope he writes another book soon and many, many more in the future.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Eugenia on April 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I decided to read this book after reading Steven King's review of it in the Entertainment Weekly magazine. I found that the beautiful thing about this book is that everyone who read it has opinion about it. It does not matter if it us the title of the book, the characters in the book, or the attempt to figure out which genre the book can be slated for. It is wonderful that all readers find Mischa Berlinski to be talented and smart young writer with a lot of potential. I have truly enjoyed this book because it speaks on many levels at once: beauty of Asia, complexity of people and cultures they are part of, religious conflict(s), tragedy of human existance no matter how hard we all try to understand it and conform to it in order to fit in the society we are part of. I strongly recommend this book -- it is a wonderful read.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Doug on July 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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 and work through interviews with her friends, boyfriends, teachers, the Thai people she is working with and finally, with a family of Christian missionaries who have been involved in missionary work in China since the 30's. The observations about differences in cultures and what it takes for an anthropologist to leave behind pre-conceived notions of God, sprirituality, morality and what makes the world tick, and then enter into a world so different and yet spiritual and religious in its own way, is the real eye opener of the book. The dedicated anthropologists who do this fieldwork have an experience vastly different and scary compared to say a chemist or physicist doing experiments in a lab somewhere here in the US.

We also get a good dose of what the Christian missionaries are trying to do and how their work can sometimes seem somewhat arrogant and un-needed. And yet, to some of the converts, leaving their old belief system and joining a much simpler belief system like "The Good News" of Christianity, can be liberating. But once our main character has virtually become a member of this Thai tribe and falls for one of the male members, she is devastated as some of them convert to Christianity.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Alan J. Ehler on April 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
While Mischa Berlinski's debut novel may not be a heart-pounding, page-turning mystery, he does an excellent job of creating believable, yet captivating characters in a realistic and engaging scenario. The reader can truly feel Martiya's struggles and obsessive curiosity with the Dyalo ways as she transforms from a secular anthropologist grad student to a tribal animist fully adopting the ways of the people she is studying. Although clearly not presenting himself as a Christian, his missionaries are likeable and sincere though fallible people. A typical book in our day would be written from one of these perspectives and disparage the others. Berlinski gives room for the reality of spiritual forces of all types without making a final conclusion in the end.

As a Christian leader I especially appreciated the fresh perspective he brought to investigating missionaries and Christianity from an outsider's perspective. Though a lot of the content would offend some Christian readers, this book challenged me to consider how I interact with those who do not fully embrace the faith.
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