Fieldwork, By Mischa Berlinski

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The Independent Culture

Lush in its landscapes, dense in its ideas, always startlingly nimble and witty, this Thailand-set first novel performs some strange upcountry magic of its own. Somehow, it transforms the anguish of expat anthropologists into a cracking adventure. Stripped to its bones, this could be an updated Somerset Maugham yarn. Lonely, devoted resear-cher Martiya, from a mixed Asian and European background, spends her life studying the remote (and fictitious) Dyalo people. But she tangles with the charismatic clan of US missionaries who compete for their souls. We know from the off that tragedy has struck in the hills beyond Chiang Mai – but how, and why? As east and west kiss and clash, and farang intruders swing "to the pendulum-edges of their souls", Berlinksi never stints on the ethnographic back-story – a risk in clumsier hands, but an enrichment in such zestful company