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Land of Marvels Paperback – 7 Jan 2010


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Windmill Books (7 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099534541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099534549
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 52,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Richly peopled, fast-moving, cleverly plotted, written with economy and elegance, this novel has the satisfying density and sweep of a book twice its length" (Sunday Times)

"Unsworth wraps his dark themes around a plot full of adventure and romance. Rifles are fired, locks are broken and necks are kissed in the midnight desert." (Daily Telegraph)

"Reading this novel is like watching an Olympic athlete about to win the gold: the seamless flow of action, the mastery of technique, seemingly effortless yet demanding attention and eliciting admiration as an end in itself" (Guardian)

"The historical novel should do three things: make tangible the period in question; reflect it in to the modern world; and, like all novels, entertain. Barry Unsworth is a master of all three concerns ..." (TLS)

"... Land of Marvels could easily have become a morality tale about greed and imperial ambitions. But Unsworth is too canny a storyteller for that. It is greed that triumphs in the end. And, though empires change, imperial ambitions prevail. Such grim reflections on the past are sobering, too, when considering the current predicament of Iraq" (Financial Times)

"Tensions mount in the desert as spies and assassins join the cast of soldiers and archaeologists, and the story hurtles on towards its fiery denouement." (Evening Standard)

"His prose is elegant and sure as ever." (Spectator)

"Unsworth is the most accomplished of novelists. All the characters are thoroughly imagined and ring true - even Jehar, convinced of the truth of his own lying rhetoric. As in all the best novels, characters reveal themselves in speech - and we see them as they present themselves to others. The plot moves faster as the novel gets into its stride. Unsworth, like Walter Scott, knows what is to be gained by an apparently languid introduction, scene-setting before the action takes over. He knows that credibility must first be established before action is significant. This is a cunningly put-together novel, in which the development of the plot advancing to an inexorable climax gains enormously from the deliberately leisurely opening." (Scotsman)

"A terrifically entertaining novel." (Kerry Shale Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4)

"A richly imagined novel squarely in the tradition of his Booker Prize triumph Sacred Hunger." (Geraldine Brooks)

"Unsworth moves lightly between his characters, as Somerville's explorations prove fruitful and a race to the finish line ensues. There's a great deal of tension but the prose stays cool - partly because he means to show us the value of the various prizes they covet." (Time Out)

"Undertones of doom never silence the high notes of an elegantly dressed adventure yarn ... The plot, so delicately stitched, unravels - literally - in a flash ... As always with Unsworth, no moral lectures or glib ironies ensue. Rather we glimpse what happened to these folk (or those who survived) during and beyond the first global war. It ended with, among many other new-born nations, the Anglo French fabrication of the four-letter land whose name ends this compelling - and unsettling - book." (Boyd Tonkin Independent)

"Unsworth is a spare and elegant writer, and his lean prose keeps perfect pace with the mounting tension as international players fight over the land. An unexpected page-turner that foreshadows the current turbulence in the Middle East." (Psychologies)

"Land of Marvels is a most intriguing fiction, as multi-layered and full of unexpected discoveries as the terrain so rich in narrative into which Somerville is so desperately burrowing. Unsworth's knowledge of his novel's historical and archaeological background is gracefully deployed, as are the parallels with the later conflict, which are never allowed to overshadow the vivid characterisation and elegant, intricate plotting by means of which the author pursues his real theme: the nature of stories that human beings tell themselves about the past, the present, and the future." (The Times)

"As you would expect from Barry Unsworth, the place and period are beautifully evoked and the plot gathers pace to a brilliant climax." (Reader's Digest)

"Land of Marvels is a novel about deception, greed and the restrictions of decorum, a time capsule reopened and a well-paced saga of broken family ties. It also offers an evocative glimpse at the lands that have since been reborn as Iraq." (Scotland on Sunday)

"Anyone familiar with Barry Unsworth's work will know the relish he takes in intrigue and subterfuge. Here, the entire cast is engaged in a kind of gavotte of dissembling, eagerly trying to outwit each other. This, as one might expect, is beautifully orchestrated, with everyone dancing to what they falsely believe to be their own tunes. And while the contemporary resonances of his story are plainly there - Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq, is being picked over by various self-interested outsiders keen to plunder its resources - they are never laboured." (Sunday Telegraph)

"He has a marvellously sinuous way of moving in and out of his characters points of view and styles of speech... neck-deep in spies, double- and triple-crosses, forbidden love and pistol-shots... Give yourself up and there's a clanking good read to be enjoyed." (Literary Review)

"A heady mix of history, politics and espionage." (Waterstone's Books Quarterly)

"Barry Unsworth - winner of the Booker Prize once, shortlisted twice - has a lot to live up to. In Land of Marvels he does so magnificently ... Lofty dreams and smash-and-grab capitalism are deftly woven together in precise and elegant prose." (New Books)

"Engaging and informative, with snappy dialogue and a fabulous, if slightly abrupt, ending." (Irish Examiner)

"Brilliant exploration of the tensions on an archaeological dig as the first world war looms." (The Sunday Times ‘100 Best Holiday Reads’)

"Land of Marvels offers a fluent plot peopled by sharp, affecting characters and graced with the author's usual erudite wit and understanding humour" (Financial Times)

"[a] cleverly plotted and elegantly written novel...Unsworth has evidently done a great deal of research, but this is woven seamlessly into the fabric of the novel so that the reader is caught up in the excitement of Somerville's discoveries." (The Sunday Times)

Review

`An intriguing story, elegantly and eloquently told.' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER on 25 Jan 2014
Format: Paperback
I've always been fascinated by stories set in the Middle or Near East, and this book, set in 1914 in the desert of Mesopotamia fits all the criteria of what I thought should make a great read. I can't believe I haven't come across it before, but I have made up for my shortcomings now.

In March 1914 Somerville, a young archaeologist is in his third season of a dig in an area of Turkey; desperate to find something that will ensure continued funding and continued digging, he despairs as he watches the railway coming nearer, built by German engineers under an agreement with the Turkish government. He believes that is the biggest threat he faces. But also in the picture are some others with motivations of their own; a young Arab by the name of Jehar, anxious to earn or steal one hundred gold pieces to buy his desired bride, Ninanna; Somerville's rather disappointed wife Edith who watches the dig assistant Palmer and his relationship with the young visitor from England, Patricia; the English Major Manning who is ostensibly compiling survey maps on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society; Fahir Bey, the commissioner appointed by the Turks to report on the progress of Somerville's expedition; the British Ambassador who was at school with Somerville; Lord Rampling who believes that British oil interests should outweigh archaeological concerns in these times of uncertainty. And not a few who believe that war is imminent across a divided Europe. Somerville's yearning to emulate Layard, and make finds like Woolley and Lawrence have done just a year previous, blind him to what may be right under his nose. Somerville's life is embedded in the past, in the rich historical worlds of Ashurnasirpal, Esarhaddon and Sennacherib; of the Hittites, the Babylonians; of Assyria, Egypt and Nineveh.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Susie B TOP 50 REVIEWER on 7 Dec 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Set in the desert of Mesopotamia in 1914, in the months before the Great War, Barry Unsworth's sixteenth novel centres on English archeologist, Somerville, a man with a passionate interest in the Assyrian Empire, who is funding an excavation with his own money, which is fast running out. Desperate to unearth a sensational find, Somerville is distraught when a new railway being built by the Germans moves ever closer to his site, threatening to destroy all that he has been working towards. Enter Jehar, employed by Somerville to keep him informed of the progress of the railway, a Bedouin Arab, who, when he is not collecting information for Somerville, is looking for ways to earn enough money to pay the uncle of a beautiful Circassian girl, Ninanna, for her hand in marriage. Other characters with Somerville on the dig include his beautiful, but disappointed wife, Edith, who feels the excitement has gone out of their marriage; Somerville's assistant, Palmer, an acknowledged expert on Assyrian and Sumerian inscriptions, and his suffragist fiancee, Patricia. Visiting the site, we meet Major Manning, a British army officer, who is ostensibly employed to travel around the region collecting information for survey maps, but in truth has a somewhat different role, and Alex Elliott, an American geologist posing as an archeologist, who takes an unwise interest in Somerville's neglected wife, Edith.

Initially this is a rather slow-paced tale, but as the protagonists' stories develop and the plot deepens, the narrative begins to move at a faster pace and becomes more involving and intriguing.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 29 Dec 2008
Format: Hardcover
(4.5 stars) Mesopotamia, once the site of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, boasted vibrant civilizations four thousand years before the Christian Era, and the ruins of these civilizations, many of them buried for six thousand years, dot the countryside. By 1914, when this novel opens, Mesopotamia (Iraq) is being ruled from Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire. Virtually every European country is in Iraq, however, waiting for the weakened Ottoman Empire to fall. The Germans are building a railroad from Basra through Baghdad to Constantinople, and they may excavate along the track, through vast oil fields. An American from Standard Oil is on site, the French are making noises, and the Russians and the Austro-Hungarian Empire hope to profit. With World War I looming, the need for oil and chrome ore (to make armor-piercing weapons) is pressing, and everyone sees Iraq as a source of materiel.

Trying to ignore this turmoil is John Somerville, a thirty-five-year-old archaeologist who has been working for three years at Tell Erdek, an ancient site near Baghdad that has so far yielded few artifacts. A broken piece of ivory, a carved flat stone, a reconstructed clay tablet with writing, and the beginning of a wall made of kiln-fired bricks are all that Somerville has to show for three years of work. Unfortunately, his excavations are in the path of the German-built railroad, and he is running out of money. As Somerville tries to protect "his" dig, he must deal with the Turks, and with deceitful British entrepreneurs and officials. The British believe that war is coming, and they are not going to interfere against the German railroad, even if it means the destruction of unique archaeological artifacts.
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