Even with a protagonist who shares the author’s name, as well as various biographical similarities, Mischa Berlinski’s first book is indeed a work of fiction: “None of this stuff happened to anyone,” he insists in the book’s endnote. Never mind that Berlinski proves to be such an effortless conjurer of convincing details that I kept trying to Google for further information. (The meticulous footnotes alone are an enticing literary feat!) But the cover confirms it’s “A Novel.” How ironic that this disclaimer follows the title Fieldwork – what anthropologists call their real-life primary research.
Having arrived jobless in Thailand to follow his teacher girlfriend, Mischa Berlinski (the character) supports himself writing articles on subjects he knows little about. He observes the Westerners around him, commenting: “There is something about the life as a foreigner in Thailand that draws those who find themselves unwilling or unable to think about their 401(k)s; and in the leisure, freedom, and isolation that the Far East provides, these types swing inexorably toward the pendulum-edges of their souls.” When an expat buddy takes Berlinski out for a meal and entices him with hearsay about a dead woman’s life, he cannot let the skeletal details go: “My soul, too, began to swing. Such is the power of a good story.”
A really, really good story is exactly what Fieldwork is. …[click here for more]