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At Play in the Fields of the Lord

CHARACTERS At Play in the Fields of the Lord

His brand of Christianity Lewis Moon a stateless mercenary who is himself part Indian has come to kill them on behalf of the local comandanteOut of their struggle Peter Matt. I realize this is an amazing piece of literature but every time I pick it up


In a malarial outpost in the South American rain forest two misplaced gringos converge and clash Martin uarrier has come to convert the fearful and elusive Niaruna Indians to. At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a tale of high adventure action and a

Peter Matthiessen Ú 1 CHARACTERS

Hiessen has created an electrifying moral thriller a novel of Conradian richness that explores both the varieties of spiritual experience and the politics of cultural genocid. In the Heart of a Different DarknessMy only previous encounter with the late

10 thoughts on “At Play in the Fields of the Lord

  1. says:

    At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a tale of high adventure action and action set in the JungleAnd who better to tell this multilayered yarn than Peter Matthiessen 1927 2014? After all he was not only an accomplished novelist but also a naturalist and worldwide explorer author of to list three The Snow Leopard African Silences and Cloud Forrest the later being an account of his crisscrossing 20000 miles of South American wilderness dealing with tribespeople and bandits all the while chronicling fauna and flora the entire web of life he deeply revered Also worth mentioning Peter Matthiessen practiced Zen Buddhist meditation and later became a Zen priestSince our American author enjoyed nothing than good old fashioned storytelling complete with compelling colorful characters an opinion he shared some years ago when I attended one of his book readings in New York other than mentioning much of the plot revolves around Protestant missionaries setting out to save souls for Christ I'll let Peter Matthiessen do the telling and thus make an immediate shift to note the major players Martin and Hazel uarrier along with son Billy arrive fresh from their missionary duties on behalf of American Indians author's language back in North Dakota The uarrier family will work under the direction of Leslie Huben a fellow American missionary who's been living among the ian Indians for a number of years Although Leslie doesn't have any children he does have a wife beautiful Andy in the film based on the novel Daryl Hannah plays the part of Andy Huben The uarriers uickly come in contact with four other individuals they must deal with a uartet of men Peter Matthiessen portrays in vivid detail Comandante Rufino Guzmán political leader for this region Father Xantes Dominican Padre who has also been working with the ian Indians and two American soldiers of fortunebandits on the run scruffy knife wielding outcast Wolfie and Luis Moon a Cheyenne raised on an Indian reservation and winner of a college scholarship Casting the spotlight specifically on the missionaries first we have Leslie Huben A former star in college basketball he had been called from a lucrative job in the real estate and insurance business to emulate St Paul Be ye followers of me he had told the Tiro Indians even as I also am of Christ The moving event had been described in his first letter to Mission Fields the monthly publication of the New Fields Mission He became a regular contributor and his fervent accounts of the dark jungle won high praise Soon he announced his intention of carrying the Word to the savage NiarunaTall blonde tan and athletic Leslie faces the world suarely his arms akimbo a man convinced he possesses the truth and his mission in life is to bring the truth to those in darkness Seen from one angle Leslie embodies the religious American frontier spirit his blazing blue eyes forever ready to seek out converts for Christ a Billy Graham courageously venturing forth to the South American jungle in the name of the Lord Yet from another angle Leslie can be judged an insensitive brute The we turn the pages the it becomes clear he has absolutely no respect or sensitivity for others neither the people he's working with nor jungle natives most especially the wild savage Niaruna their customs and tribal wisdom their beliefs and sacred rituals In many respects Martin uarrier is Leslie's opposite although trained at Moody Bible Institute Martin possesses not a shred of personal charisma nor physical presence; Martin is an acne scarred bespectacled loser However Martin does maintain a strong sense of integrity and desire to better understand people Martin even compiles a notebook on the Niaruna way of life as he did when he worked with the Sioux back in North Dakota Martin recognizes his responsibilities as a missionary but he also envisions his converts accepting the tenets of Christianity within the context of their own social and religious beliefs Hazel uarrier takes Fundamentalist Christianity to the extreme For big hulking Hazel the snake infested jungle the heathen savages even the Catholic padre and his converts for Rome are counted as within the realm of Satan When Hazel first lands at the Brazilian outpost she spots a Mestizo man wobbly on his feet urinating with his back to the small crowd Dead drunk And at this hour of the morning Hazel uarrier exclaimed; she felt slapped across the face But her remark struck her as silly and scared not that she would have described herself as sensible and effectual and courageous yet she knew she was regarded in this way by those who knew her on her own home grounds where good sense and diligence and moral courage meant something in this place such ualities must be totally unfamiliar much less effective Oh huge Hazel if only the sinister jungle and all its devilish inhabitants could be taught to mirror your sparkling clean God fearing North Dakota Beautiful soft spoken Andy Huben is the type of person my dad called a true Christian Andy opens her loving heart to all she meets becoming a special friend to eight year old Billy uarrier By the inclusion of compassionate generous Andy Huben Peter Matthiessen provides a fair rounded picture of Protestant missionaries in the jungle In other words our Zen Buddhist author does not use his novel as an opportunity to bash the Christian religion By my judgement the two most interesting characters in the novel are Billy uarrier and Louis Moon Billy makes an instant connection with all the critters and each and every woman man and child he encounters on his jungle adventure Oh Billy I love you buddy Louis Moon is one complex man fierce tender courageous intellectual emotional At one point as Moon flies his small plane dangerously low on fuel over uncharted jungle a much concerned Leslie Huban contacts Moon on the radio What is your exact location; repeat what is your exact location Over To which Louis Moon replies I'm at play in the fields of the Lord At Play in the Fields of the Lord is an adventure you don't want to miss Pick up a copy and when you're finished watch the film available on Prime Moving Powerful Unforgettable Peter Matthiessen 1927 2014

  2. says:

    My favorite book ever at least so far as I recall Protestant missionaries Catholic missionaries and a Lakota con man turned his own sort of missionary in the jungle Everyone's flawed everyone has a plan to save the Natives and everyone loses their minds a bit The most likeable character turns out to be the hellfire and brimstone Protestant missionary They made a good movie of it too but the scenes on mind altering drugs don't work so well in there Peter Matthieson is the man but stay away from his short stories they suckIf you liked The Poisonwood Bible well this is better but obviously not if you're going for a history of the Congo

  3. says:

    I read this book twice in 1989 in Africa and in 1996 in Brazil then I spent five years among the Yanomami Indians and was able to experience many of the things described in the story I recently listened to the audiobook version and found it moving fascinating and thought provoking Anthony Heald does a great job with voices and accents speaks the Spanish parts well and does a good job rendering the Niaruna language As a story it is brilliantly told; Matthiessen's prose is vivid and his characters are richly crafted The events are as tragic as anything in Shakespeare but they are close to real life in their dimensions and horror I have met many missionaries like the ones in this book and a few mercenaries like Wolfie The descriptions of life in the are precise and accurate; the book's depictions of indigenous peoples are marvelously evocative No other book that I've read paints a clearer picture of the conflict between civilization and nature

  4. says:

    Soldiers of fortune and Protestant missionaries find themselves at odds with there respective objectives in the jungles of Brazil Each facing overwhelming odds to conuer their missions—to find a way out of the country that keeps a grip on them; or to go farther into the deepest part of the jungle to make contact with an ancient Indian people and convert them to Christ because of course the natives have savage souls Who will win in the end?This story takes the reader on uite the adventure vividly describing the various flora and fauna encountered All of the seven deadly sins are in abundant supply and innocence is in for a shockWritten by Peter Matthiessen in 1965 AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD was selected by The New York Times as one of the best books of the year

  5. says:

    The movie version of AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD was very good However the novel left a lot to be desired The plot becomes too fragmented and the characters are vague and mostly unappealing For some reason various books published in the late 60's or early 70's feel a need to show us characters tripping out on drugs or being affected by narcotics in some way Okay drug use was a sign of the times or part of the sub culture during that time period but so what? The drug induced states come across as a huge distraction in Matthiessen's book Forget the book and watch the film

  6. says:

    I realize this is an amazing piece of literature but every time I pick it up my heart breaks again That is the mark of a brilliant author but I just can't bear to keep feeling like thisPrepare yourself if you embark on this journey for a descent into the worst outcomes for the evil and even the well intentioned This is a world of madness hallucination and multiple realities The story is a kind of celebratory dance of darkness crude language addictions lust murder genocide rape betrayal insanity loss of faithThis novel is comparable to Heart of Darkness and The Poisonwood Bible The itself is the true main character here as a heavy dark visceral and eery force that pervades and smothers I felt as if a hot wet heavy wool blanket were wrapped around my headAlthough the book is so disturbing Matthiessen's prose is so luscious I have made myself linger to savor it The sun grew swollen lost its outline turning the sky from limpid blue to dull cooked white like a gigantic frying egg until the sun itself turned a sick white in a white sky Wolfe lay down on his bed without taking off his boots and fell asleep a surprised expression on his face mouth slightly open and the handle of his knife protruding like an iron nose between the buttons of his twisted shirt Moon sank down slowly on the edge of the other bed and contemplated the round face and the roistering beard the inseparable earring and dark glasses and beret like grotesue toys I opened to a couple of random pages and found those little gems The whole book is like thatI skimmed ahead so I know what I'm missing by stopping now It truly is a brilliant piece of literature but I just don't want to stay in this hellish world with these tragic people any

  7. says:

    In the Heart of a Different DarknessMy only previous encounter with the late Peter Matthiessen was his final novel In Paradise which impressed me immensely So I went back almost fifty years to this novel of 1965 and was thrilled to see many of the same themes yet treated in a strikingly different way The protagonist of In Paradise attends a conference on the site of Auschwitz; a Gentile among Jews he is joined by those of other faiths and some of no faith at all none of which emerges unscathed from the moral issues that are raised In At Play Matthiessen tackles another genocide or at least a potential one—that of Indian tribes in the upper —viewing it through the eyes of several different Christian missionaries as well as at least one non believer who may exhibit a truer humanity than any of themIn the opening scene Martin uarrier his wife Hazel and nine year old son Billy fly over what I take to be the Peruvian Andes to a small frontier town on the headwaters of the Martin is an evangelical missionary from North Dakota sent to convert the Niaruna four syllables a savage tribe on the Espíritu river He is met by his immediate superior Leslie Huben a gung ho perennial boy scout and his beautiful wife Andy Also at the airstrip is Padre Xantes representative of what Leslie persists in calling the Opposition and the local administrator Commandante Guzmán a venial character whose comic manner conceals a real danger Parked on the field Martin notices a beat up aircraft with Wolfie Moon Inc Small Wars Demolition painted on the side This belongs to two soldiers of fortune nominally American but persona non grata in most countries that they go; Guzmán intends to use them for his own conuest of the Niaruna Between them these nine people but especially Martin uarrier and Lewis Moon comprise most the cast of the rest of this substantial novel other than the indigenous characters that will play an increasingly important part later onMatthiessen wrote this some three decades before Barbara Kingsolver came out with The Poisonwood Bible that other now classic novel about a missionary venture gone wrong and I am sure that comparisons will have been made The back cover makes the inevitable link with the Conrad of Nostromo and of course Heart of Darkness But the author I thought of most strongly at first was Graham Greene especially in the scenes involving Padre Xantes whose debates with the evangelicals are a masterpiece of theology disguised as worldly comedy But he is a relatively minor character Matthiessen's main focus among the Christians is the dynamic that grows between Martin Hazel Leslie and Andy as each reacts in different ways to the conditions in which they find themselves I know the Les Hubens of the world from years of listening to delegates to the Worldwide Missionary Convention that was one of the summer highlights of my seaside town while I was growing up and have long since come to see through their rhetoric At first I thought that Martin would be made out of the same stuff but no he is too brave too intelligent and too honestYou see a man like me a cautious man has his life all figured out according to a pattern and then the pattern flies apart You run around for a while trying to repair it until one day you straighten up again with an armful of broken pieces I needed badly to talk to someone who didn't refer each problem to the LordThis is Martin talking near the end of the book to Lewis Moon who is in many ways his spiritual opposite but is perhaps the most like him as a man Moon plays a fascinating role in the novel and may actually turn out to be its real protagonist Conrad went upriver glimpsed the fringe of his Heart of Darkness and retreated exclaiming The horror the horror Matthiessen on the other hand goes deep inside In a series of chapters that may make or break the book for many readers the author uses Moon as a kind of spirit guide first into the recesses of his own psyche in a near fatal overdose of a hallucinogenic drug and then by having him penetrate the tribe of the Niaruna themselves I won't say how this comes about but the sections among the Indios raise ethical issues at a basic level that makes the concerns of the missionaries seem petty and self serving Moon is half Cherokee though he feels himself to have been a bad one; this background gives him a respect for tribal ways that the others simply do not possess We must not forget too that Matthiessen is an award winning naturalist and ethnographer; while his account of life among the Niaruna is presumably imaginary it is imagination guided by observation and intelligenceAs in life this story is a tragedy Several of the original nine characters will end up dead or incapacitated Some faiths will be lost or shaken It is clear that the cards are stacked against the Niaruna or other tribes retaining their way of life intact Yet I admired the way that Matthiesen ended the novel on a moment of balance It would have been so easy for him merely to condemn or sueeze out his last drop of blood I found his alternative in the last three or four chapters both moving and beautiful

  8. says:

    This book can be read strictly as a great story; but it is hard for it not to resonate within myself at least on so many levels finding oneself the face of evilman corrupted by greed and power not a new concept by any means but very well eximplified by characters and deeds perpetrated throughout the story as well as motives some even done in the misguided perpetuation of good Feuding religous factions that are interested in the how of accomplishing Christ's message of spreading the good wordand just the subtlety of the changing of words can obsfucate the message and magnify the religous beliefs of all party's concerned with religion than the objective to bring not a system of dogma but spirituality Something the flawed main protagonist a scoundrel of epic proportions who in need of saving himself from himself the most is villified rather than seen for what he is a human struggling with the most innate uestion where do I fit in?

  9. says:

    I never was able to shake the feeling that there was something missing in this novel Maybe it was a soul or heart that it lacked? Hard to say because it was at times uite beautiful and the ending was very well done but I felt empty after I was done with the bookOne of the biggest problems I had with the book was that the characters felt very thin Even Moon who was written as a 'complicated man' never jumped off of the page and no amount of discussion between Wolf and Andy at the end about his mysteriousness was going to change that And Moon was probably the biggest issue I had here; he seemed just too damn convenient as a character His Plains Indian background never felt like than an excuse to talk about how bad the native peoples of the Americas have been treated and how poorly we ever understood their cultures I would have been much interested had the book been about his back story onlyI did however like Wolf though I have to admit to always imagining him in my mind as played by Tom Waits from the film Still he was the only real character in the book and I really felt for him He really was a very lonely man who acted tough and could be tough too but he loved the people he let inHazel would have been a great character too but she was a serious missed opportunity I could almost feel Matthiessen's hatred and judgment of a certain type of American mid western Christian woman She got off to a great start and seemed like she was going to be worth exploring but she nearly ruined the entire book The only thing I enjoyed her doing was when she hated her husband for being so good for being so much like Jesus That was a great thing for a missionary to sayAs for everyone else Martin was painfully dull and boring Leslie was thinner than water and while Andy had the most potential she never went anywhere Even Matthiessen just leaves her sitting at a table staring into nothing at the end Uyuyu I'll admit was rather good but he wasn't used enough and Father Xantes was just never tied down to anything I felt was relevant beyond an allegory for the Catholic Church in this part of the world The novel is well written and some passages are very beautiful the opening scene of the airplane is stunning but it never adds up to much than a story that is supposed to be sad but just winds up being sort of flat And it's a shame too because there was a real opportunity to explore some very interesting ideas but perhaps this is material only Joseph Conrad would have known what to do with And this novel does feel very often as if Conrad is standing over Matthiessen as he wrote it the subject matter the rough men as outlaws the sometimes here very beautiful language though Matthiessen's language never reaches the same depth as Conrad; he's no master wordsmith but rather just a good putter togetherer of words In the end I do not feel as if I learned anything insightful about Christian missionaries about native Indians about South American politics the parallel story of Guzman reads like a bad Hollywood movie nor about the larger issues of faith and acceptance I felt like we never really left that plane in the beginning and we only ever saw glimpses through the jungle canopy

  10. says:

    I liked this book a great story and Matthiessen's description of life in the jungle and of the Niaruna is fascinating At the same time some of the writing is pretty shockingly hokey So while I'd like to give this 4 stars I can't uite do it