So that’s why she did it {Book Club}

If you haven’t finished Fieldwork: a novel by Mischa Berlinski and you do not want to know what happens, do not read this post :). Bookmark it, save it, come back to it. But we are going to discuss why Martiya murdered the person she did and I’m trying to give you enough time to stop reading before you read something you don’t want to read.

We’ve had two rich discussions on Fieldwork or related themes. The first was about working with other expats and the second on the majority of the book (up until just before the ending). We touched on pacing, characters, TCKs, Christianese, how haunting the book is and implied improprieties. Whew! There’s a lot going on. Thanks for the discussions. This is what I love about book groups, you all see and wonder about things I miss or read too quickly or forgot, but by slowing down, circling back and chatting with you, I’m all the better for it and I hope you are too!

Even with peripheral vision, this should be far enough down that we can get into the ending without spoiling it for others. If you’re still reading now and you don’t want to know the ending, well, TOUGH :).

OK, so now we know why and how Martiya murdered David. If only it were so simple, right?

  • The scene where Martiya visits Norma, to use a word from last weeks discussion, haunts me. I understand why Norma might have wanted to respond as she did, but what a missed opportunity — not that she, Norma, could have been the one to have the conversation, I get that. Do you think Martiya was truly seeking spiritual truth? Or was it more of a desperate seeking of connection with humanity, not God? How might it have been different if any other Walker answered the door that night?
  • Were you surprised that Martiya left David laying in the ravine for such a long time? Why go back and shoot him? How would it have impacted your impressions if he had died instantly?
  • As two entities who had long-term investment, what are lessons we can learn from the interactions between the Walkers and Martiya? How has this book challenged you and your work?
  • Did you see the ending coming? Of course we knew of the murder from the beginning of the book, but how well did Berlinski (the author) do in building suspense in your opinion?
  • And the questions from a discussion guide I’m going to use: Do you see any similarities between Mischa’s relationship with Rachel, their life together in Thailand, and Martiya’s relationship to the Dyalo and their village?
  • (from the guide) Do you see Martiya’s conversion to a belief in Rice, her investment in the mystical elements of Dyalo life, as a conversion, a rational decision, or a departure from sanity? Do you think she went crazy, or just went native?

Even if you haven’t read the book, come back and read through the comments, we have some real thinkers here! Of which I’m the least, but every group needs those of us who show up for the pastries since we don’t like to cook :). Your words give me much to munch on through the week and I find my thoughts returning to our conversations.

Next week in our final discussion of Fieldwork we will spend some in depth time looking at the role the beliefs of the local people had on their work. Be thinking ahead of the beliefs the local people you work with have and how that impacts your work.

On to the comments! If you’re so inspired, make some of Ashley’s chai first and then share your voice!

Amy 🙂

Photo credit by “Caveman Chuck” Coker via flickr


  1. Mary M January 20, 2014

    I found the first book you chose much more uplifting and inspiring than this one.  There seemed to be too many unnecessary words and so much darkness.  I did not like how the overseas workers were portrayed.  I felt that while their dedication and sacrifice was evident, they were made to be too unforgiving.

    My favorite character was Rachel, the teacher who went to Thailand with hopes of teaching English and in building a relationship with her boyfriend that would lead from their cohabitation to marriage and a family.  I felt that her boyfriend; the narrator was not responsible and not willing to commit to a real job or a real life.   I really could not recommend this as a book for my friends to real.  I do have many overseas worker friends, and this is not at all representative of them.

    1. Amy Young January 21, 2014

      Mary — I’ve been thinking about your comment (and thank you so much for saying you didn’t like the book that much! I appreciate your honesty) — and the idea that they were made to look too unforgiving. Do you think they all were? It seemed to me as I read it that Mrs. Walker was unforgiving in parts and was a strong force in her family. Out of respect for her, the rest of the family steered clear of the subject. Though, as we saw with Mr. Walker having a coke with Mischa and the granddaughter sharing a bit with him too, it seemed they were not as “unforgiving” as they may have appeared.  Thoughts? Anyone :)?

    2. Amy Young January 21, 2014

      Oh and it did seem that Mischa and Rachel were on different paths. I appreciate that she was interested in continuing to step into adulthood by deepening commitments and involvement. (I use these words to indicate that singles, even if they don’t marry, can still step fully into mature adulthood.)

    3. Mikkin Helvig January 22, 2014

      It’s so interesting how we all see it from different perspectives.  I’ve already recommended this book multiple times!  And, I actually feel like the family was fairly representative of some Ms I have known.  Definitely not all of them (and I would note include myself :-)), but I can picture and think of a few in my past!  That said, I think we all fall prey to some of our “beefs” with the Walkers.  At times we over-Christianize our language, we also probably all have or have known someone who has come to love the people (the Dyalo) more than Jesus, or have missed an opportunity (like Norma did).

      1. Amy Young January 22, 2014

        Mikkin, your summary last sentence — well done in saying much with few words. And sadly, I think you’re right that we can have “specks” in our eyes at times.

        1. Paul Royer March 16, 2015

          Amy: I’m contemplating religiosity as the “speck” or log, the astigmatism if You will, that distorts our view to God’s-nature in self and other. I adored the book! I read pages, sentences, even words over and over as the anthropologist-perspective in me unfolded truths to find enculturation instead. Another contemplative arrival while digesting Berlinki’s work: Malinowski’s truth resides in the Parable of The Prodigal Son, the prodigal discovering the Father’s love only by having rejected it, the “faithful” son actually distanced from Love by its ubiquity, disconnected from Love by his delusion of it. I acquired Fieldwork  for $0.25 at my local library, orphaned, I believe, by the regional fundamentalist demographic 🙁 but 😉

  2. Danielle Wheeler January 21, 2014

    The stories I most resonate with are the ones that are real about people’s struggles.  And this story was very honest about each character’s struggles.  Everyone had their admirable qualities and their distressing weaknesses, which made them feel very, very real.  I too forgot that it was fiction, because it read so much like a biography.  I think there’s likely quite a bit of truth involved here.

    Although we knew the ending from the beginning, the desire to know the how and why created a surprising amount of tension and kept me engaged.

    Here was my one beef with the storyline (the fact that it bothered me so, probably shows how invested I was):  I was left with way too many questions on how Martiya and Hupasha’s relationship began.  They spent that night together (while her boyfriend sat outside!!), but how did they officially become each other’s gin-kai??   I didn’t think you could choose your gin-kai.  Or could you?  How did that all come about?  I just felt like I really knew Martiya, and then suddenly she’s gone literally crazy over this Hupasha guy, whom we know nothing about!  If I’m going to believe that someone I’ve come to “know” is going to kill for this guy, I want more details.  Did I miss something?

    Maybe the author intentionally created a haze around that relationship so that readers were left to make their own call on how the evil spirits were involved.  If so, I can respect that.  If he wanted to create mystery and leave the reader with haunting questions, then certainly succeeded with with me!

    Did anyone else wonder if Martiya wouldn’t really be dead at the end?  That comment about Karen saying, “A ball of opium killed her?” made me wonder if Martiya might possibly turn up alive at the end.

    1. Amy Young January 21, 2014

      Oh please, I hope people comment on Danielle’s questions! I wondered how their relationship got started too — and the end, that Martiya was willing to kill, while Hupasha remained faithful to Christ. Talk about messy. I think that is why I liked this book as well, it didn’t offer easy solutions and showed both the hope and the fallenness that can at times get woven together.

    2. Mikkin Helvig January 22, 2014

      I had all the same questions, Danielle.  The only one I hadn’t thought of if Martiya was not actually dead.  I might have to go back and check that one out.

      My sense is that Hupasha is only symbolic of her obsession with the Dyalo.  She seems lovesick with Hupasha, but maybe her obsession with the Dyalo and the mystery of “rice” is only intensified by the relationship she has with Hupasha.  My sense is that relationship was just the tipping point.  Because Hupasha was her entry point into the inner circle of Dyalo customs, it seems like there must be something more, but maybe it really could have been anything that brought to that extreme place.

      1. Danielle Wheeler January 22, 2014

        Oooh, good thoughts, Mikkin!!  That totally makes sense.  That it was really more about her obsession with the Dyalo, and Hupasha was her entry point into the inner circle.

      2. Amy Young January 22, 2014

        I echo Danielle — these are good! For some (certainly not all), when they have that break through to a culture, a deep, deep breakthrough (especially after investing so much) — well, I need to tread lightly here. But if there is some level of lack of attachment to their “home” culture, as Martiya seemed to have, they can find their identity more in the new culture than in Christ.

    3. Paul Royer March 16, 2015

      Ditto with the “…ball of opium…,” suspicion—too many who-dunnuts, I guess. I believed Martiya to have achieved cultural severance to the extreme of finding herself cut adrift and NOT being so very self-contained, her psychic roots flailing about and finding Hupasha—who was a doorway, an icon (of a cultural fabric) more than an actual person (insert Psych/Relationship bib here;-)  I imagined all the deaths to self piling up (home/academia gone, defining BFF gone, the god of her quest failing her, the Dyalo “orphanage” rejected her, and finally the passing ship refusing her a baptismal PFD) until the most desperate seemed compelling: making someone dead to prove YOU are alive—then not feeling much better so going back for s proper ceremonial death-object: the gun.

  3. Jenny January 22, 2014

    What I really liked about the book was the variety of perspectives on the same situation. I think culture and cultural interactions are fascinating so as much as I enjoyed the characters as individuals I think I was more interested by their interactions. I also enjoyed the detective work on Mischa’s part to figure things out. I’m always intrigued by a puzzle and enjoyed getting to go along with him as he put bits and pieces together. And even though it was my second time through I had largely forgotten the ending so it was surprising again.

    Honestly though, I didn’t find Rachel very relevant to the general story or plot. She added some humorous experiences and I guess was a bit of a foil to Mischa’s ambivalence but I think the book would have been equally as good without her character. I agree with Danielle that Hupasha guy just kind of appeared and assumed it was meant to point out more clearly the influence of the spirits, but I don’t really know. I know the author probably was trying not to give much away, but throughout the book I felt like the spirits were maybe an outdated idea that most didn’t accept and then all of the sudden there were the explanation behind everything. It was very sudden. Any other thoughts on the matter?

    One thing I am learning in this book club is that I read too quickly and don’t remember what happened. I know we still have a week (or two) of discussion on this book and don’t want to rush it. But is it possible that we could know the next book title sooner to have time to get it and read it (read: force myself to read the book) at a slower pace?

    1. Mikkin Helvig January 22, 2014

      I totally agree with you about reading the book too fast!  I forget details.  That said, I do think the pace of this book was little off—though as others have said, maybe it was used to show the strangeness of Martiya’s act.  But, I felt myself bogged down with the middle slowness and then whoa, everything unfolded and I was definitely struck by what Danielle says above—it is really hard to understand what the relationship between Martiya and Hushpa really is.  I would have liked more here.

  4. Christy J January 27, 2014

    Sorry my comment on this thread is a bit late, but I broke my toe last Friday so things have been a bit crazy in my life lately.

    Since finishing this book I have been thinking a lot about the murder and what motivated Martiya to kill David. It just seemed so crazy to me because she seemed like such a rational character. But the more I think about her obsessions with the Dyalo and with Hupasha, I can start to make a bit of sense of it. When you devote your life to something like she did, it can become all-consuming. Without having God to direct her passion to, she latched on to earthly things that can be taken away, and then losing them became unbearable. This makes me think about my life and the times I become more obsessed with earthly things than I am with God. When I let my work (even though my job is about God and His Word) become more important to me than God is (which I’m afraid to say happens more often than I would like to admit), what happens if that work is taken away? Would I “lose it” in some way like Martiya did? How important it is, then, to keep God as the most important thing in my life, because no one can take God away from me.

    1. Amy Young January 28, 2014

      Christy, so sorry to hear about your broken toe! Ouch. Hope the healing will not be too long. I love it that you’ve thought about the why behind Martiya’s actions and have hypothesized anyone of us are capable of something along these lines (if not so extreme) left to our own devices and separated from God.

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