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3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  208 ratings  ·  40 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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Oct 21, 2015 Tfitoby rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: lit
An unnamed man is released from an unnamed prison after an unspecified length of time, we slowly learn that the world has changed a great deal since he was imprisoned, that he was some sort of political prisoner in an unnamed third world country, that he was beaten repeatedly and that he has nobody waiting for his release. Through three sections of story that jump progressively further back to the root of what caused this man's imprisonment we come to know this unnamed man, to have affection for ...more
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
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
Gus has been a prisoner for years and reconciled himself to dying in prison. Then one day, the guards come to him and tell him he's going home. What are they talking about? He is home. All that he gets for his protests is another lick with the baton and he's still discharged from prison. He's on his own, bewildered and totally lost after being imprisoned for so long. A beautifully written and haunting story with many dimensions.
Loved this book. Wish I'd had the time to sit down and read it in one or two sittings. I usually don't go crazy over books this short in length as they seem to be too lacking in character development, but Olshan has a way of fleshing out characters that really made it work. Also loved the unsentimental writing style and sparse prose. Despite the style, the setting still seemed quite vivid to me. The broad leaps back in time added a unique aspect but never seemed jarring or confusing. It all came ...more
A brilliant debut that reminded me greatly of Coetzee's Waiting For The Barbarians, albeit more mysterious and brutal. An idealistic young doctor is gradually crushed by the machinery of empire as he is made complicit in conquest and barbarity. Told in three parts, in reverse chronological order, the hopelessness of his plight is craftily revealed, holding a magnet to the reader's moral compass.
Annabel Smith
A haunting, unsettling view of colonisation and war written in taut, beautiful prose.
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
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
Incredible, moving, and thought-provoking read. Awesome.
Hoping Olshan will be writing more books for adults, I more appreciated his short novel by having previously read about the Marsh Arabs. Would like to know what factors led to the author's creation of the main character.
The Marsh Arabs
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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
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.
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.
Abby Nyberg
Interesting way of telling the story that definitely helped to keep me turning the pages. The backwards progression of the character from old prisoner who is completely alone and hopeless to someone young and ambitious feels natural. It reveals something about how ambitions are limited by our society, and how the best intentions can lead to the worst possible conclusions. To best sum up this book, I would use the phrase, "life's not fair."
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.
Rebecca Schwarz
This short novel is just exactly as long as it needs to be. A story of an innocent's introduction to the many cruelties of colonialism. It takes place in an imagined nation that is rendered in meticulous detail. The three sections are arranged in reverse chronological order, with each section illuminating the one that came before it. The plot and suspense are handled so deftly, that this literary device feels natural and necessary.
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
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.
Thanks to the publisher for a free copy of Marshlands. This is a beautifully written, gripping novel about a doctor who lived among and treated the marshmen of Iraq, and was captured and held prisoner for several years before being released back into civilization. It is written in three sections, starting with the present, then 21 years earlier and lastly 11 years prior to that. I found the backwards telling of the story very original and effective. With every step back in time, more layers of t ...more
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.
Short, depressing book about imperialist torture
and defilement of a native land, told through
the story of an occupation doctor who tried to help
the oppressed tribesmen, with dire consequences.
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.
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.
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Book Keeping: Marshlands by Matthew Olshan 5 17 Mar 10, 2014 10:54AM  
  • The Paladin (Walter Tirel Book 1)
  • The Accidental Iraqi
  • Sand
  • No Stopping Train
  • Sphinx
  • God's Kingdom
  • A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World
  • In the Wolf's Mouth: A Novel
  • The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq
  • The American People: Volume 1: Search for My Heart: A Novel
  • Book of Numbers
  • Black Robe
  • Subtly Worded
  • Dreaming for Freud: A Novel
  • After the People Lights Have Gone Off
  • Effortless Intelligence: Using the Firmware of the Mind to Achieve High Performance
  • Shark
  • De Uitvreter
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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