From the Publisher
“A Russian doll of a read . . . A story that cooks like a mother.” Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
“An intoxicating journey filled with missing souls and vengeful spirits.” The Washington Post
“An entertainingly readable novel of ideas . . . Berlinski's narrative is brilliantly plotted and builds to a shattering but entirely credible conclusion.” Los Angeles Times
“A sad and powerful tale . . . Inspired and courageous.” San Francisco Chronicle
“An impeccably structured novel portraying two strikingly different milieus . . . Bravura storytelling.” The Seattle Times
“Airtight and intensely gripping . . . His treatment of both religious missionary and anthropological fieldwork is subtle and insightful. Impeccable research and a juicy, intricate plot play off in this perfectly executed debut.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Gripping and entertaining . . . A quirky, often brilliant debut, bounced along by limitless energy.” The New York Review of Books
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Berlinski's mesmerizing first novel blurs the line between fact and fiction. A young American couple living the expatriate life in Thailand, Mischa and Rachel struggle to keep one step ahead of insolvency. Rachel works as a first-grade teacher; Mischa is a freelance journalist. When they meet up with a bibulous fellow expat who regales
Mischa with the tale of a mysterious California anthropologist -- Martiya van der Leun, who recently committed suicide while serving out a prison term for murder -- the plot takes an ominous turn.
Unable to get Martiya's story out of his head, Mischa digs up some of her work, which is brilliant, and becomes obsessed with telling her story. As a field worker with the remote Dyalo tribe, Martiya lived among her subjects, adopting their ways and falling deeply in love with a Dyalo man. As it turns out, the murder victim was also a Dyalo expert, albeit with a very different mission.
Mischa's fascination with Martiya takes him from the halls of academia in Berkeley to the hill tribes of Thailand, vividly recounting the mores, taboos, and religious and sexual rites of both worlds, as well as Martiya's increasingly desperate attempts to reconcile them. A beautiful and credible craftsman, Berlinski is a sublime writer who has woven a complex plot with a diverse cast into an exceptional novel of wit, charm, and real intelligence. (Spring 2007 Selection)
With its offbeat style, Berlinski's consummate fieldwork -- fictional though it may be -- produces an intricate whodunit, both disturbing and entertaining. Even as he confesses to feeling "like the baton in a relay race of faulty memories and distant recollections," Berlinski meticulously unearths Martiya's "good story," taking readers on an intoxicating journey filled with missing souls and vengeful spirits.
The Washington Post
A fictional version of the author serves as the narrator of Berlinski's uneven first novel, a thriller set in Thailand. Mischa Berlinski, a reporter who's moved to northern Thailand to be with his schoolteacher girlfriend, Rachel, hears from his friend Josh about the suicide of Martiya van der Leun, an American anthropologist, in a Thai jail, where she was serving 50 years for murder. As Mischa begins to investigate Martiya's life and supposed crimes, he becomes increasingly obsessed with the woman. The complications that arise have the potential to be riveting, but the chatty narrative voice takes too many irrelevant detours to build much suspense. Still, Berlinski, who has been a journalist in Thailand, vividly portrays the exotic setting and brings depth and nuance to his depictions of the Thais. Buried within the excess verbiage is a lean, interesting tale about, among many other things, the differences between modern and tribal cultures. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Part of the charm of Berlinski's first novel is that he has accomplished what many educators have struggled to do for years-to turn a seemingly dull academic subject into a riveting read. The cleverly plotted story focuses on Martiya van der Leun, who has committed suicide in a Thai women's prison, where she was serving a 50-year sentence for murdering an American missionary. A young farang (white and foreign) journalist named Mischa Berlinski learns that Martiya was an American anthropologist who for years lived with a tribe called the Dyalos to study its mysterious culture. Mischa finds Martiya's story-and exactly why she committed the crime-so oddly compelling that he dedicates his life to understanding Martiya's fate. He becomes so involved, in fact, that he winds up sacrificing badly needed income and the relationship with his longtime girlfriend. Berlinski the novelist manages to inject just enough arcane information about tribal Thai culture to be informative but not tedious, all the while employing an admirably lighthearted sense of humor. Recommended for most general fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/06.]-Kevin Greczek, Hamilton, NJ Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
A journalist investigates the suicide of an American anthropologist serving time for murder in a Thai jail. Mischa and Rachel are a young, bored, American couple who decide, upon college graduation, to move to northern Thailand, where Rachel accepts a job teaching first grade in Chiang Mai and Mischa pieces together enough freelance journalism gigs to make a living. But Mischa's focus changes when another wanderlust American tips him off to the riveting story of Martiya van der Leun, a middle-aged anthropologist who overdosed on opium while serving a murder sentence in Chiang Mai's women's prison. Mischa has almost no information about the crime, and leads on Martiya's life seem scarce, but he pursues the story with an anthropological fervor-one that he soon learns would have made Martiya proud. He follows Martiya's life from her childhood in an Indonesian village to her teenage years in California to her career in Thailand, where she began as a field researcher studying the Dyalo people. Slowly he uncovers important puzzle pieces, learning most notably that Martiya's murder victim was David Walker, a fourth-generation American missionary from a family of Dyalo experts, and that what had began for Martiya as an academic project with the Dyalo eventually became for her an obsessive way of life. As Mischa integrates himself into the facets of Martiya's story, he becomes as consumed with it as she had become with the Dyalo, and when Rachel returns to America at the end of the year, Mischa finds that he cannot leave. Berlinski's methodical account of the factors that led a rational intellectual to commit such a heinous crime is air-tight and intensely gripping. But equally notable is hisability to conjure such an elaborate portrait of the fictional Dyalo, and his treatment of both religious missionary and anthropological fieldwork is subtle and insightful. Impeccable research and a juicy, intricate plot pay off in this perfectly executed debut.