Fieldwork Review
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In a remote part of Thailand, near Chiang Mai, dwells a hill tribe called the Dyalo. Martiya Van der Leun, a brilliant anthropologist in the making, lives among them, learning their customs and their language. She loses herself completely in the tribe until she no longer wishes to return to civilization. When something threatens her place among the Dyalo, she resorts to murdering a missionary. She spends the last ten years of her life in a Thai prison before she commits suicide.

Mischa Berlinski follows his girlfriend, Rachel, to Thailand, where she took a job teaching first grade. When he runs into an old friend, he learns of Martiya’s story and becomes almost obsessed with unraveling the mystery surrounding her suicide and the murder of missionary David Walker.

Mr. Berlinski did such a good job bringing this story to life that I actually thought I was reading a true documentary about a somewhat uncivilized tribe and the anthropologist studying them. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there’s no such tribe called the Dyalo, nor a woman named Martiya. Nevertheless, real or not, Martiya is a beguiling character that you won’t soon forget.

When the author writes about the Christian missionaries sent to witness to the Dyalo, though, Fieldwork becomes somewhat dry and boring. As I read, I sensed that Mr. Berlinski held no real warmth for the Christians—and it showed in his condescending attitude toward the Walkers and their faith. Oh, he did seem to admire their bravery in trekking into dangerous territory to bring the Word of God to remote people, but he also seemed to blame them, in a subtle way, for David Walker’s death.

When Mr. Berlinski picks up Martiya’s story, though, Fieldwork becomes more interesting. I liked this brave woman, with her sarcastic sense of humor, right up until I discovered her reason for murdering David Walker—but, in the end, I mostly pitied her.

I enjoyed reading Fieldwork, but I found that it took a lot of concentration to stick with the story. If your mind wanders even a bit, you’ll get lost and have to go back and reread to figure out what’s going on. I’ll admit that I even put it down to read something else a time or two before I finished it.

If you’re interested in anthropology—or Thailand, for that matter—you’ll enjoy Fieldwork immensely, because the author digs in deep with his knowledge of both subjects. But if you’re looking for a fun, light read, and you’re in no mood to have to think, don’t pick this one up. Though it does have a few laugh-out-loud moments, Fieldwork is neither fun nor light—but it still makes for a nice departure from the typical light reading.

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