Thursday, July 03, 2008

Religion and Research - Westerners in Thailand

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski

I ordered this as a result of reading about it at Books for Breakfast, and I'm glad I did. I tend to go through phases where I'll read incredibly quickly, and others when it's a little slower (the presence or absence of a new television DVD set does have an effect on that since I stop doing anything else entertainment-wise until finishing a series; just recently, I have watched Supernatural Seasons 1 and 2, Californication and How I Met Your Mother Season 1 - I figured with Alyson Hannigan, Neil Patrick Harris and the guy from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it deserved a shot despite being on CBS). Anyway, I've been on a good streak with the last two books I picked up, staying up later than I intended because I didn't want to put them down yet.

While this book is a novel, Mischa Berlinski inserts himself as a character, so there are definitely points where I was wondering if something was true when it came to minor details. The novel is about his quest to find out the facts leading to a murder over a decade before. He starts out with only the name of the murderer, Martiya van der Leun, and her aunt's phone number. Following up on clues, he gets more and more contacts, and finally starts discovering the story behind the anthropologist, Martiya, and David Walker, one in a long line of missionaries.

As he learns more about Martiya from her friends, and David from his missionary family, Berlinski becomes more and more obsessed with the story and discovering the why, in a way comparable to Martiya herself, who as an anthropologist became obsessed with actually truly understanding rather than just observing the Dyalo of northern Thailand (completely fictional).

There were a few parts where the novel was a little too longwinded, but it wasn't too bad. Mostly, I was just kind of disappointed with the ending - I figured that somehow there would be an interesting and deep political, or even moral, question or debate, about missionary work vs. anthropology that would somehow explain or end the novel. Some of my specualtions: perhaps, Martiya felt that missionary work was destroying ancient cultures with no right etc, but that wasn't it at all. The ending was a let down, mainly because the "why" just wasn't enough for me, but other than that, it was an enjoyable novel.

No comments: