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Fieldwork: A Novel
Fieldwork: A Novel
Mischa Berlinski
Picador, 2008
356 pp., $18.00

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Mark Walhout

Missionaries and Anthropologists

Murder in Thailand.

It's hard not to envy the Berlinskis. They have degrees from places like Princeton, Oxford, and Berkeley; they speak English, French, and German; they've lived everywhere from San Francisco to Paris to Bangkok. Father David, a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, is a philosopher-mathematician who writes popular science books like A Tour of the Calculus (1996), taking on Darwinists like Richard Dawkins in his spare time. Daughter Claire, an expert in international relations, is the author of Menace in Europe (2006), a journalistic exposé of Islamic radicalism, anti-Semitism, and moral decline in the New Europe. Son Mischa, a classicist by training, is set to follow in his father's and sister's literary footsteps.

As if that's not enough, the Berlinskis are also talented novelists. David is the creator of the Aaron Appelfeld mysteries, a series of politically incorrect novels about a hard-boiled San Francisco investigator (all published by St. Martin's). Claire is the author of two spy novels published by Ballantine: Loose Lips (2003), a clever page-turner about love and betrayal at the CIA, and Lion Eyes (2007), an even cleverer follow-up featuring a protagonist named "Claire Berlinski," author of a book called "Loose Lips." Then there's Mischa, whose first novel, Fieldwork, was published earlier this year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All of the Berlinski novels are compulsively readable, but only Fieldwork is a work of "serious" fiction—serious enough to have been nominated for a National Book Award.

Even before its nomination, Fieldwork had won accolades from publications as diverse as The New York Review of Books and Entertainment Weekly, where it received an unlikely plug from Stephen King in his "Pop of King" column. Praising the novel as "a Russian doll of a read, filled with stories within stories," King wondered why it was stuck at No. 24,571 on the Amazon list. The culprit, he opined, was the novel's publisher, ...

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