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3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  125 ratings  ·  23 reviews
“A first novel of considerable maturity: powerful, original, cunningly constructed, and timely.” —Julian Barnes, author of The Sense of an Ending

After years alone in a cell, an aging prisoner is released without explanation, expelled into a great city now utterly unfamiliar to him. Broken by years of brutality at the hands of the prison guards, he scrounges for scraps, s
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Diane S.
A wonderful novel that once again introduces me to something I didn't know. I had never heard about the marshlands of Iraq or to the people of the marshes and their customs.

This is written in matter of fact, unsentimental prose. It offers amazing details in an unsentimental almost detached manner, no matter the horrible things that are being done. It introduces the reader to a young physician named Gus and shows us how he became involved with the people of the marsh, a people he grows to admire
Nov 17, 2014 Josh rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
I had never come across anything from Matthew Olshan before I made my way to my local library, but saw the interestingly animated cover of ”Marshland” as I was perusing the ‘new books’ shelves. I must admit that vibrant titles tend to catch my eye and I do happen to judge books by their covers. It’s unfortunate that this book didn’t quite meet up to my liking of the cover, but of course that’s no one’s fault but mine.

As Olshan tells the story which is “Marshland”, his characters move backwards t
A story of the harsh realities of colonialism, as seen through the eyes of a once idealistic, and very naïve, military doctor who eventually experiences some of brutality that was routinely inflicted on the inhabitants of the invaded country.

The three sections of the book unfold in a non-linear timeline, beginning with current times, then going back 21 years ago when the doctor first arrived in the Marshlands, with the last section being 11 years ago, when the doctor finally sees the full horror
A bridge has been created between the “civilized” and “uncivilized” world. Gus is a doctor in the military on assignment in the Marshlands where he is one of the few physicians who is willing to treat the marshmen. This novel echoes with warnings of what imperialistic war can do to a society, and how much it oppresses. Marshlands can only be described as haunting. It is uniquely told backwards, beginning with Gus being thrown from military prison, and works backwards to explain his story and als ...more
I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway, and I feel lucky that I did! It was a short novel, but it's one that would benefit from more than one reading due to its unique format. The novel begins at the "end," and skips back in time twice. I thought this would be confusing, but it wasn't, and it resulted in a very interesting character study of the protagonist, Gus. Once you reach the end of the book, you want to begin it again so that you can better understand and appreciate the beginning. I ...more
Marshlands is an excellent, engrossing, disturbing novel. Told in a spare 164 pages, and in a 'backwards' (beginning in the present and regressing in time), the author plays the story like a virtuoso. If you read nothing save the first 64 pages (the present), your investment would be secure. If I have a quibble, it is this - I loathe the 'backwards' fashion of storytelling. My suggestion (if you also dislike the convention of 'backwards' storytelling) - begin at page 118 (III), then read from pa ...more
After quite the reading slump, abandoning two books after 100 hundred pages and a third that I didn't even give that chance, this book comes in from the library. I asked the library to buy it so I feel pretty obligated to read it. Well I think my reading slump is over. (The used book store across the street having a 2 for 1 sale might have helped as well)

Onto Marshlands. The book was quite short (which was fine) though I would have liked more in both the second and third parts, the first part wa
Andrea Zuercher
I bought this book because I know the author. I'm glad I did, because if I had not known Matthew, I don't think I would have discovered and read this book. I would like to say that I enjoyed reading it, and on a certain level I did. The writing is exquisite. It is a short book, written in backward chronology, and in a lot of ways it reads more like a long free-verse poem than a novel. The prose is very tight, and I felt that every word was deliberately -- and well -- chosen. I am a professional ...more
This is one of those rare novels that deserves to be read again and again. The author's use of language is stunning. Each word is carefully chosen and pregnant with meaning. This is a story about encountering the "other." In an unspecified (but Middle-eastern) country, a civil war rages. The reader sees the brutality, futility, and loss of beauty as the story progresses backward in time. This is a great gateway to conversations about colonialism, civil war, dictatorships, marginalized population ...more
According to the book jacket this novel, "...shivers with the life of a fragile, lost world. It is a novel of occupation and empire, loyalty, and treason, and how we cement our identities by pointing at someone to call 'other.'" It is also a novel of torture, violence, compassion, and healing, and a time distortion. I also found it quite mysterious, which I usually like in a novel, poem, or any other writing. This promising novelist deserves our attention.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, the Caribbean... any nation colonized by another could be a stand-in for the Marshlands. Gus (a doctor with an occupying army) learns to love the marshlands and their marshmen, and in flashbacks, the reader learns the reward and the price of that love. It's painful to read this poetic book, knowing that this fiction reflects the truth of what happens in wars of occupation.

Highly recommended.
Bloggers Recommend
Marshlands deals in ambiguities: An unnamed prisoner in an undisclosed prison is held by unidentified captors until he is released into an unknown world. As the details of Olshan’s story fall into place, a story of war and occupation, patriotism and culture emerges, moving readers along toward an emotional and unexpected explanation.
This was haunting, disturbing, but a book that I had to finish. I will be thinking about it for a long time. Really made me think about the current crisis in the Middle East and our role in that mess. Also about the Vietnam War.
Most beautiful novel I read in quite a while. The suspense is enormous and very well done and the 'going-backwards structure' is of course a perfect agent for this psychological build up. Very, very good.
Melba Ketchum
The story was unique and well thought out, however, it was not a story I enjoyed. I found it to be dark and somewhat depressing although it brought out truths found in war.
The structure of the story adds to the quality of the writing. We first read about the present, then are transported to the past and then even farther back. A powerful little book.
Strange little luminous book about how an army doctor atones for the destruction of the (Iraqi) marshmen culture his country has obliterated.
I found this book to be very well written and it really held my interest - I read it in a weekend (it is only 164 pages). It was gruesome in parts, but only as need be, not over done. I look forward to future works by Olshan.
the beginning was a bit confusing. but it keeps you entertained and is fast paced. soon it all becomes clear.
Written in reverse order. It was good, but I'm still not sure how I felt about it.
This generation's Waiting for the Barbarians.
A lovely, unexpected read.
♥ Sandi
Beautifully written book - the initial adult novel by an author who writes YA. I loved the way in which this story was written; the first third of the book was actually the ending. Adventurous, good character portrayal. A child, from his past, rescues a doctor who then works to meet his calling, treating the men of the marshlands.
Gea marked it as to-read
Dec 14, 2014
Mike marked it as to-read
Dec 10, 2014
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Dec 06, 2014
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Book Keeping: Marshlands by Matthew Olshan 5 15 Mar 10, 2014 10:54AM  
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I spent too much of my youth studying. My studies took me to Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Oxford Universities. I liked learning languages and reading great literature. All along, I was writing my own stories, too.

But a life of the mind was never really enough for me. I wasn’t particularly good with my hands, but curiosity always got the better of me.

In the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot more
More about Matthew Olshan...
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