As an academic in the social sciences, this book grabbed me in a way it might not others, but wow did it hang on tight. I absolutely tore through it, got to the end, and wanted to start all over again. Beautifully written. The academic side of anthropology isn't given the main focus in this story but is weaved throughout, and I loved the thoughts on subjectivity and the role of the anthropologist instead of just the typical "academics in the jungle" story I feel we usually get. Focusing more on the characters also allows the story to skirt some of the more questionable ethical aspects of anthropological field work; I'd like to see a discussion of those issues more in literature, but as more of a character study this probably wasn't the best place for it. This book really surprised me; it's highly deserving of all the end-of-year praise it's receiving.
I have to confess that I almost abandoned this book a few times, but stuck with it because of the stellar critical and popular reviews. I was bored to tears until about two-thirds of the way through. At one point, to try to pique my interest, I looked up Margaret Mead, whom the central character, Nell Stone, is based on. That only made things worse. I could not picture Margaret Mead at the center of a steamy (literally -- it's set in the tropics!) love triangle. Although I was impressed from page 1 by the stellar, painfully realistic character development, I didn't like any of the three characters enough to care. However, after struggling through more than half the book, Nell and Bankson finally started to grow on me and Fen became so unlikable that I could finally engage. By the last third, the book became a page turner with some plot twists that were plausible but completely unexpected. I stayed up late last night to finish it and after sleeping on it, I give it a very solid 4 stars. I'm glad I hung in!