In the 1930's three young anthropologists meet in the wilds of New Guinea and never afterwards is the same. Andrew Bankson is from England. He has been in the field for several years, fleeing a home where there is no freedom and where both of his brothers have died. He meets an American couple, Nell and Fen. Fen he has met before for a short time in their academic careers. Nell has already found fame with the publication of her first book.
Andrew is immediately smitten with Nell. In his eyes, she is beautiful and wise and he is so taken back by his attraction to her that he can barely speak.. But Nell and Fen are married, as unlikely as their union seems. They are very opposite characters, even in their work. Nell likes to sit and observe, making copious notes about everything she sees; slowly evolving a worldview of the culture she is studying. Fen becomes the culture; going out hunting with the men, disappearing for days on end and entering their rituals. He has even indulged in their ceremony of cannibalism. He is also envious of Nell's success and finds ways to sabotage her work. He hides discoveries from her. He breaks her thing; her glasses and her typewriter. He is disparaging of her both personally and professionally. Yet each still is tied to the other by attraction and love.
Fen and Nell are fleeing their lives with a tribe that turned dangerous for them. Andrew helps them find another tribe to study, one that is close enough to his own tribe of study that he can visit. Slowly, he works his way into their lives. He finds it harder and harder to hide his interest in Nell and Fen knows that Nell is also attracted to him. As a group, they make seminal discoveries and create structural guidelines that will rock their field of study. But individually, none can see where these relationships will go or what the end result of their meeting will be.
This was a Best Book for such publications as NPR, New York Times Review, Time, the Guardian, Publisher's Weekly and others. It was the winner of the 2014 Kirkus Prize as well as a finalist for the National Book Award Critic's Circle Award. It is loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead and her seminal work on the Pacific Tribes. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.