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Land of Marvelsby Barry Unsworth
Synopses & Reviews
Barry Unsworth, a writer with an "almost magical capacity for literary time travel" (New York Times Book Review) has the extraordinary ability to re-create the past and make it relevant to contemporary readers. In Land of Marvels, a thriller set in 1914, he brings to life the schemes and double-dealings of Western nations grappling for a foothold in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire.
Somerville, a British archaeologist, is excavating a long-buried Assyrian palace. The site lies directly in the path of a new railroad to Baghdad, and he watches nervously as the construction progresses, threatening to destroy his discovery. The expedition party includes Somerville's beautiful, bored wife, Edith; Patricia, a smart young graduate student; and Jehar, an Arab man-of-all-duties whose subservient manner belies his intelligence and ambitions. Posing as an archaeologist, an American geologist from an oil company arrives one day and insinuates himself into the group. But he's not the only one working undercover to stake a claim on Iraq's rich oil fields.
Historical fiction at its finest, Land of Marvels opens a window on the past and reveals its lasting impact.
"Booker Prize-winning Unsworth (The Ruby in Her Navel) sets his intelligent and timely new book in Mesopotamia during the spring of 1914, just before the chaos of WWI. John Somerville, a British archeologist desperate for fame, worries that his new discovery, an ancient tomb, will be compromised by the construction — funded by Germany — of a new railway line. At the excavation site, Somerville's wife, Edith, wonders if her marriage has fizzled, especially after the arrival of Alex Elliott, a handsome American posing as a geologist but secretly searching for new sources of oil. Meanwhile, Jehar, an Arab confidence man, brings often fabricated messages to Somerville, warning him that the Germans are quickly approaching. The tension between the players — all eager to claim rights to what the land provides — builds toward a violent, unexpected finale. In elegantly modulated prose, Unsworth creates a tapestry of ambition and greed while, at the same time, foreshadowing the current conflict in the region." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A transfixing melodrama alive with crackling suspense, sharply drawn characters, intense historical relevance and ideas in action. Absorbing and irresistible." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[H]istorical fiction at its best. [Land of Marvels] provides some insight into current political divisions in the Middle East as it explores the power and limitations of storytelling....Unsworth [draws] characters with depth and complexity." Library Journal (Starred Review)
"With measured prose that builds steadily in suspense, Unsworth does an excellent job at simultaneously evoking a past era and foreshadowing American involvement in the modern Middle East." Booklist
"A richly imagined novel squarely in the tradition of his Booker Prize triumph, Sacred Hunger. Unsworth has an Austen-esque flair for character and an uncanny ability to bring the past to life." Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March
"This is the work of a master: lean, elegant, and wise, weaving the doomed ambitions of two fallen empires into a compelling story that also deftly comments on the American presence in Iraq." Andrea Barrett, National Book Award-winning author of Ship Fever
"Land Of Marvels is up to Unsworth's highest standard, featuring a cast of fascinating characters thrown together in the desert of Mesopotamia just before the Great War, all furiously digging for the past and turning up the future. American readers will recognize the landscape and learn some surprising facts about how we got exactly where we are right now. As well a great read, Land of Marvels is an important book." Valerie Martin, Orange Prize-winning author of Property
"An intriguing story, elegantly and eloquently told." Peter Ackroyd, bestselling author of London: The Biography
About the Author
Barry Unsworth, who won the Booker Prize for Sacred Hunger, was a Booker finalist for Pascali's Island and Morality Play, and was long-listed for the Booker Prize for The Ruby in Her Navel. His other works include The Songs of the Kings, After Hannibal, and Losing Nelson. He lives in Italy.
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