Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski


Mischa Berlinski

The vivid descriptions, well-rounded characters and believable plot make this book an absorbing read, more akin to a biography than fiction. The narrator intertwines the world of missionaries, anthropologists and Thai tribal natives in a refreshing, non-judgmental way, showing humanity and understanding. The novel does drift in places, but ultimately these digressions add to the development of the characters and story.

Some of her most successful attempts at building rapport with local women had been when she had discussed her wedding, her bride-price, and her relations with her in-laws, a subject that was almost an obsession among Dyalo women. Martiya named her husband Pierre, for no reason at all, and Pierre, which the Dyalo pronounced 'Pell', very quickly became something of a character in the village. Like all villagers everywhere, the people of Dan Loi were naturally gossipy, and stories about Martiya’s man were legion: ... On one of Martiya’s visits to the lowland, she bought a magazine with photographs of Hollywood celebrities, and clipped a picture of Robert Redford. 'This is Pell', she told the women when she came back to the village. The women puzzled over the strange figure, trying to interpret the photograph and the man. Nobody in the village had ever seen blond hair before, or knew that humanity came in such a pale color. Is he a ghost? they asked - and it took Martiya a moment to realize that the question was asked with absolute sincerity.
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