rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sometimes I feel as if my job is taking over my life. After reading Fieldwork,a debut novel by Mischa Berlinski, I just have to say that thankfully my job isn’t taking over my life as much as it could.
In Fieldwork the fictional protagonist, who just so happens to have the same exact name as the author, is an American free-lance journalist who lives with his girlfriend in Thailand. He finds out about Martiya van de Leun, an American anthropologist who has recently committed suicide in a Thai prison. She had been serving a 50 year sentence for murdering a member of a local missionary family. Berlinski becomes fascinated with her story and begins to research how she ended up where she did. She had spent many years living in a Dyalo village in northern Thailand to study their culture. Martiya’s fieldwork becomes her life. She becomes so wrapped up in her work in the Dyalo village that she forgets how to live her previous life.
Fieldwork read like a mix of a mystery novel and literary fiction. At its heart the book is about storytelling…the story our lives tell. Berlinski works to uncover as many facts about Martiya’s life as possible in order to construct her story. the narrative jumps back and forth through time to give the details of the different characters lives. The resultant novel is powerful, gripping, and tragic. As we learn more about Martiya we begin to wish her life would turn out better even though we know that it ends with her killing herself in prison.