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At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter…

At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965)

by Peter Matthiessen

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I've wanted to read this book since I saw the movie version, several years ago. In it, Peter Matthiessen tells the story of what happens when a group of American Protestant missionaries come to a remote outpost on a tributary of the Amazon river. There they clash with a pair of American mercenaries trying to get their passports back from the military leader and earn enough money to fill the tank of their airplane with gas so they can leave. The military leader is looking for an excuse to wipe out an unruly indigenous group, the Niaruna.

In At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Matthiessen demolishes the idea of the White Savior rescuing a minority group through selflessness and dedication. While there are several important characters, the two who are the most interesting are Martin Quarrier, a selfless and self-examining missionary who really wants to understand the Niaruna, and to protect them from the forces threatening them, from annihilation by the government to the missteps of missionaries who break-down tribal ties and encourage dependency, and Lewis Moon who, because he half Native American, has never found himself belonging anywhere. In the Niaruna he sees what might have been for his own culture and so is determined to join the Niaruna and to guide them in how to avoid assimilation.

Through the prism of the mist, the heat of the low jungle sky seemed to focus on this wretched spot, where tarantulas and scorpions and stinging ants accompanied the mosquito and the biting fly into the huts, where the vampire bats, defecating even as they fed, would fasten on exposed toes at night, where one could never be certain that a bushmaster or few-de-lance had not formed its cold coil in a dark corner. In the the river, piranhas swam among the stingrays and candirus and the large crocodilians called lagartos; in adjacent swamps and forests lived the anaconda and the jaguar. But at Remate de Males such creatures were but irritants; the true enemies were the heat and the biting insects, the mud and the nagging fear, more like an ague, of the silent hostile people of the rain forest.

While the Americans, despite bringing only harm, are portrayed with nuance and the Niaruna themselves with respect, the military commander, as well as the indians who support him and live in the town, are treated by Matthiessen with not much more than contempt. It would have been a stronger book had he been able to treat those living between the Americans and the Niaruna with the same complexity as the other characters. Still, At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a fascinating story of what happens when good intentions are not enough. ( )
1 vote RidgewayGirl | Oct 7, 2014 |
After 50 pages, I'd had enough. ( )
  alexandriaginni | Apr 3, 2013 |
Just checked out the ebook from local library. Have fond memories of seeing the film and looking forward to the detail and inner revelations that books usually provide. I'm can't think of a case where the book wasn't far better than the movie. A few were just as good but that was due to the movie emphasizing some aspects where the book emphasized others, such as WORLD ACCORNING TO GARP and MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. Move review as I get further into it.
  kcreader49 | Mar 30, 2013 |
This tale of missionaries in the Amazon just never really grabbed me. ( )
  wanack | Sep 18, 2010 |
Although written in 1965 (when Matthiessen was 38) the novel still remains vibrant and relevant, its staying power attested by its transition to film almost 30 years later in 1992. Even though it would seem almost un-filmable, the director did a good job, carried in part by the beautiful photography of the Amazon. The book is basically about the extinction of a smaller culture by a larger more powerful culture - it is no accident the main characters are Jewish and Navajo Indian, two cultures that have historically successfully resisted attempts at genocide. Matthiessen was active with indigenous peoples in the Amazon when he published the non-fiction book "The Cloud Forest" in 1962, just a few years before "Fields of the Lord", the two works can be profitably be read in conjunction as both biographical of Matthiessen's evolving views and understanding of the culture and geography. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Nov 16, 2007 |
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The way to innocence, to the uncreated and to God leads on, not back, not back to the wolf or to the child, but ever further into sin, ever deeper into human life. -- Hermann Hesse
For Luke and Carey, Rue and Alex
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In the jungle, during one night in each month, the moths did not come to lanterns; through the black reaches of the outer night, so it was said, they flew toward the full moon.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679737413, Paperback)

Set in the South American jungle, this thriller follows the clash between two misplaced gringos--one who has come to convert the Indians to Christianity, and one who has been hired to kill them. Now the basis for a major motion picture.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:19 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In a malarial outpost in the South American rain forest, two misplaced gringos converge and clash. Martin Quarrier has come to convert the fearful and elusive Niaruna Indians to his brand of Christianity. Lewis Moon, a stateless mercenary who is himself part Indian, has come to kill them on behalf of the local comandante.… (more)

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