…immensely intelligent and entertaining…Unsworth is now 78 years old, and
Land of Marvels is his 16th novel, but if he's lost a step along the way, it certainly isn't evident here. Not only does he confidently steer a complicated narrative populated by numerous characters, all of them believable and interesting, but he displays an impressive command of archaeology and geology, difficult subjects that are at the center of his story…All in all, a lovely, memorable book. The Washington Post
Booker Prize-winning Unsworth (Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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. (Jan.)
Well known for the widely acclaimed novel
Sacred Hunger, which received the Booker Prize, and his well-crafted Morality Play, Unsworth here offers historical fiction at its best. It provides some insight into current political divisions in the Middle East as it explores the power and limitations of storytelling. While the publisher characterizes this novel as a thriller, and it certainly has a compelling plot, Unsworth exceeds the limitations of that genre by drawing characters with depth and complexity. As several Western countries do their best to exploit the looming prospect of war and potential oil reserves in 1914 Mesopotamia (now Iraq), a British archaeologist races against time to uncover the secrets of an Assyrian site before construction on the new railway flattens the site and his hopes for further expeditions. Consumed with worry, he doesn't realize who, among his growing party, has betrayed him, who is working undercover, and who is just lying. Highly recommended for all literary fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ9/1/08.] Gwen Vredevoogd
The Booker Prize-winning British author's latest novel is a tale of archaeological exploration and global political cross-purposes, set in the former Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in the immediate pre-war year of 1914. When obsessed researcher John Somerville attempts to unearth a buried Assyrian palace that lies directly in the path of a German-built railroad line leading to Baghdad, rival international interests collide in the area of the dig (a mound known as Tell Erdek). British diplomat Major Manning, scheming oil magnate Baron Rampling, Somerville's assistant Palmer (encouraged by his love interest Patricia, an educated woman committed to feminist advancement) and Somerville's neglected, resentful wife Edith enact a dance of mutual involvement, estrangement and conflict that's disturbed by two manipulative "outsiders." American petroleum geologist Alex Elliott, ostensibly employed by Rampling but driven by a more complex agenda, easily infiltrates both Somerville's activities and Edith's starved affections. And Arab interpreter-factotum Jehar (whose name bears a sly echo of "Jihad") works against his employers' priorities, consumed by his love for a beautiful young Circassian girl. As tell-tale "Layers of Parthian, Byzantine, Roman occupation . . . [are] found," Somerville anticipates scholarly fame for having deciphered mysteries related to once-glorious Assyrian kings. But much more is at stake than his love of the past, and as plotlines are skillfully drawn together, the ingenuous prophecy of a visiting pair of biblical archaeologists who seek the site of the Garden of Eden is fulfilled-as "the danger of human overreaching" precipitates a literally explosive climax. One hopes this richnarrative may inspire a film version enlisting the talents of Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Kingsley and their peers. A transfixing melodrama alive with crackling suspense, sharply drawn characters, intense historical relevance and ideas in action. Absorbing and irresistible.
“Deft characterization . . . succeeds in summoning the demons and the angels of Iraq’s present and past.”
Christopher de Bellaigue - New York Times Book Review
“[Unsworth’s] work is as clean as Hemingway’s and as dark as Conrad’s.”
“Immensely intelligent and entertaining. . . . Its characters are real, its prose is fluid, its sense of place is pervasive, and its ending is exactly right. . . . All in all a lovely, memorable book.”
Jonathan Yardley - Washington Post
“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“Immensely intelligent and entertaining… Not only does [Unsworth] confidently steer a complicated narrative populated by numerous characters, all of them believable and interesting, but he displays an impressive command of archaeology and geology, difficult subjects that are at the center of his story… Land of Marvels can-and I believe should-be read as a corrective to the arrogance and overweening self-confidence that led the United States into the morass of Iraq, but it also is a reminder that nothing is forever… but it also can be read as singularly skillful entertainment. Its characters are real, its prose is fluid, its sense of place is pervasive, and its ending is exactly right, on a note of loss, survival and irony. All in all, a lovely, memorable book.”-Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post“Unsworth assembles his layers with the subtlety you would expect from a renowned, if restrained, historical novelist and Booker Prize winner… Amid the tension, and some deft characterization, Unsworth's themes of extraction and exploitation are irresistible… Unsworth's denouement is dramatic and richly symbolic…. In Land of Marvels Unsworth succeeds in summoning the demons and the angels of Iraq's present and past. Not bad for a volume you could read in an afternoon.”- The New York Times Book Review“[Unsworth’s] work is as clean as Hemingway’s and as dark as Conrad’s, and it’s braced with a loathing of exploitative power... In seamless prose Unsworth exposes his characters’ myriad ulterior motives, all of which mirror today’s news. The conclusion is shocking, but the real triumph is the book’s commentary on modern Iraq... Beautifully disguised as a literary thriller, the novel is a reminder that if we continue on our present course we won’t just be doomed to repeat history, we will be doomed utterly.”— Men’s Journal “One can't help but ponder the what-ifs while reading British author Barry Unsworth's intrigue-fueled historical novel Land of Marvels… Unsworth's portrayals are sensitive and, to an extent, empathetic, giving the story a humanity it otherwise would not possess… Unsworth isn't just spinning a good historical yarn here. Land of Marvels holds up a mirror to our own grand and maybe misguided ambitions in a region that is no less explosive, no less paved with grand and dubious intentions today.”-Seattle Times“In a way, to call Land of Marvels a murder mystery or thriller is to undersell its considerable qualities. There is mystery aplentyand murderbut there's a lot more going on here, as is always the case with Unsworth. The book is imbued with local atmosphere and informed by sound knowledge of the history and the culture of this particular corner of the Turkish Empire: Mesopotamia, or what we now know all too well as Iraq.”- Los Angeles Times“With his usual light hand, [Unsworth] keeps the story snapping along, setting up plot twists galore in an atmosphere that approaches a drawing-room comedy, complete with intrigues among the ruins.”- The Boston Phoenix “What Unsworth does best here is portray the collision of cultures and political and economic interests that, with the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire a few years later, would lead to the drawing of questionable national boundaries, giving Britain control of the newly named Iraq, and planting the seeds of discontent that, some 85 years later, would find the United States invading a country it did not fully understand. Land of Marvels is subtle in the connections it makes between then and now, but the discerning reader can see clearly the hand of fate planting those seeds of luckless destiny.”- Bookpage"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“One hopes this rich narrative may inspire a film version enlisting the talents of Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Kingsley and their peers. A transfixing melodrama alive with crackling suspense, sharply drawn characters, intense historical relevance and ideas in action. Absorbing and irresistible.”-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)“Unsworth here offers historical 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)“The tension between the players 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