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Land of Marvels

3.16  ·  Rating details ·  560 Ratings  ·  126 Reviews
n 1914, an English archaeologist called Somerville is fulfilling a lifelong dream - to direct an excavation in the desert of Mesopotamia.

Yet forces beyond his control threaten his work. The Great War is looming, and various interest groups - Turkish, German, English and American - are vying for control over the land and its strategic and economic prizes. The Germans are s
Hardcover, 287 pages
Published February 1st 2009 by Hutchinson Radius (first published December 24th 2008)
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Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
[9/10] Powerful storytelling from Barry Unsworth, focused on a more recent historical period than Songs of Kings or Morality Play. The Land of Marvels here is northern Mesopotamia, on the eve of World War I, a place rich in history and rich in mineral resources. Empires have fought over it for millennia, and looking at today events they are still fighting over it.

What struck me about this story is a sense of fatalism, of ants caught in a storm, going about their personals obsessions while the wo
Description: In 1914, an English archaeologist called Somerville is fulfilling a lifelong dream - to direct an excavation in the desert of Mesopotamia.

Yet forces beyond his control threaten his work. The Great War is looming, and various interest groups - Turkish, German, English and American - are vying for control over the land and its strategic and economic prizes. The Germans are securing trade routes with a new railway; a major in the Royal Engineers is working undercover, secretly mapping
Jan 21, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
In the early part of the 20th century many foreign interests intersected in the Middle East. Barry Unsworth sketches with preternatural skill a British archeologist fruitlessly toiling for years over a dig he finds it increasingly difficult to sustain financially. The stresses added by German railroad and American petroleum contractors encroaching on his stake which he is desperate to believe will yield results shortly is too real for comfort.

The years leading up to the Great War in Europe were
Όταν είδα αυτό το βιβλίο στο ράφι του βιβλιοπωλείου είπα αρχαιολογία και πολιτική?! ΟΥΟΟΥ! Τι άλλο θα μπορούσα να ζητήσω; Όμως από την αρχή κανέναν από τους χαρακτήρες δεν συμπάθησα ιδιαίτερα ενώ και ο τρόπος αφήγησης των γεγονότων ήταν λίγο βαρετός. Δύο φορές το άφησα στην άκρη και τελικά όταν το τελείωσα έμεινα με ένα συναίσθημα μέτριου. Σαν βιβλίο δεν θα το χαρακτήριζα ως κακό ούτε αξίζει λιγότερα από 3 αστέρια. Απλά μάλλον δεν ήταν αυτό που περίμενα...
Thom Dunn
Barry Unsworth continues to create impressively detailed historical novels, each on a singular period in history when the British figured heavily...if not always at their most laudable. Each of his books makes me want to read all the others again. And I have.
switterbug (Betsey)
With lean, clean, clear, and well-lit prose, Barry Unsworth delivers a flawless and restrained masterwork in a sober but subtly ironic tone. From the opening passages until the end, I was enveloped in the naturalness and ease in which this historical novel unfolded.

On the precipice of World War I, a convergence of civilizations and a clash of egos surround an archaeological dig at Tell Erdek in Mesopotamia (Iraq). British archaeologist John Somerville seeks fame and something deeper as the head
Jim Leffert
This is the second book I’ve read by this author. Like the previous one, The Ruby in Her Navel, this book deals with the collision between Europe and the Arab world. This time, the collision takes place not in medieval Sicily but in early 20th century Mesopotamia, during the months preceding World War I, during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

I found The Ruby in Her Naval to be a much more satisfying book than Land of Marvels. For one thing, the former book is rich in atmosphere and follow
Jayne Charles
In this novel of Mesopotamia in 1914, a stiff upper lipped Englishman is in charge of an archaeological dig, but those confounded chaps intent on organising a war won’t let him get on with it and it’s a dashed nuisance. And if that weren’t enough there’s an awful lot of bally nonsense over oil.

Enter the loquacious American oil man, like an early version of George Dubya, the sort of guy who in a film would have been played by Clint Eastwood or somesuch, and who has clearly been introduced to shak
Jan 04, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I chose to read this book because I once dreamed of becoming an archaeologist, and having lived in the region, I was especially interested in the early history of the search for oil. Let me start out by saying that the book is definitely a better read than the flap copy might lead you to believe. The narrative focus on this small group works extremely well, and serves to underscore the myriad of competing interests focused on the region at the time.

Unsworth is a skilled writer, and all of the c
Apr 12, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Slow and mellow with a big bang at the end. This illustrates how obsession and believing in one's lies can be a very dangerous to your health. Two men, one a scholar by choice, who is seeking self validation and is riddled with doubts, the other a man with no education but skills, self made, in love with a dream and obsessed with a woman. Both destinies tied together and for both to achieve their dreams both must succeed or die trying.

The setting is wonderfully done. Mesopotamia right before WW
Jul 22, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book had a nice pace too it. Tension slowly building. A mixture of hope and impending doom - without knowing which would prevail.

Set in a time and place I do not know much about it made me consider the area in new ways. Think about new points of view. This is exactly why I like reading historical novels. So I enjoyed it for this reason.
In 1914, on the eve of World War I, the British archeologist Somerville is in his third season of excavating a mound in Ottoman-controlled Mesopotamia. As he begins to uncover a palace and realizes its significance to the world's understanding of the fall of the Assyrian Empire, he is overwhelmed by the impending threat to his dig posed by the Germans' railway, which is planned to cut through the dig, and the European and American interest in the oil fields surrounding the dig. The convergence o ...more
Dec 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How wonderful is it to read the latest book by an adored author and ---whew---you loved it!

Ahhh...a new Barry Unsworth novel. This is thrilling! Have you ever read anything by him, Flower? Unsworth is one of my top 10 favorite authors. I look forward to a new book by him with the same keen excitement that I await my siblings return to their own homes after holidays. He isn't a book a year writer so each new reading experience must be made to last. Also, he's 80 years old and hey I know older peo
Feb 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historical fiction, archaeology, Assyria, Mesopotamia
Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth (This review is based on a bound galley.)
Land of Marvels is a two-sided statement. Taking place primarily at an archaeological dig, where hope reigns that there will be vast historic value to be discovered. There is also a separate, secondary love story running through the background with tales of the marvels that can be enjoyed in a wonderful city. The dig is a very real archaeological exploration; the stories are tales told to impress a loved one. Barry Unswor
Dillwynia Peter
Aug 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Neither a long nor intricate novel, it somehow manages to embody the the phoney war leading up the to First World War declaration. It has everything that was happening in the middle east at that time - the archeological finds that fired imaginations of past worlds, the excitement of a new age of energy with the advancement of oil & the vast reserves known in the Middle East, and the European machinations and proposed division of soils over a dying Ottoman Empire.

The period being unearthed is
Todd Stockslager
Jun 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Unsworth spins an atmospheric tale of intrigue, politics, history, archeology, romance, and natural resources set in the disintegrating Ottoman Empire on the eve of the Great War. Unsworth handles the volatile mix with the due care and respect it deserves, using understatement and irony with a deft touch to highlight the touch points without exploding them on contact.

The story turns on the discovery of a major Assyrian site by British archaeologist Somerville. The site stands in the path of an a
Feb 06, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is 1914, and Barry Unsworth's The Land of Marvels opens on a frustrated archeologist, John Somerville, digging in Mesopotamia. The narration then alternates between Somerville and those who make his acquaintance (a cast of con-men and murderers). Some bent on glory, others greed, but all wish to exploit the land of modern day Iraq. By the story's end everyone will have compromised themselves as oil mania consumes the region.

The plot is good, but the novel reads more as a political commentary
Alice Meloy
Aug 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Booker Award winner Unsworth (author of Sacred Hunger, one of my all-time favorite historical novels) has written a slow-building, probably-too-staid-for-most -thrill-seekers novel of international intrigue in the Fertile Crescent just prior to the outbreak of World War I. A British-led archeological dig on the verge of making a significant discovery in what is today's Northern Iraq is being challenged by German construction of a railroad line to Baghdad and by secret American and British attemp ...more
Jul 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, so unexpectedly lovely. I adore this sort of jewelbox of a book: small but not limited, both perfectly calibrated and emotionally generous -- this is the reason I became obsessed with the Booker Prize (and now I cannot. wait. to read Sacred Hunger). My mind thrills to finding symmetry in different people and times, and that is exactly what Land of Marvels does: ostensibly a story about white men (archaeologists, politicians, spies) and the things (tombs, oil, power) they hope to find in the ...more
Feb 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
Barry Unsworth's Land of Marvels is set in Mesopotamia in the summer of 1914, when an amateur British archaeologist seems on the brink of startling new discoveries about the Assyrian Empire, only to come into conflict with the geopolitical imperatives of the impending war with Germany.

In Land of Marvels, Unsworth is revisiting a period he has written about beautifully before in The Rage of the Vulture and Pascali's Island, but this work isn't as successful as those. The characters are sketched o
Aug 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unsworth is one of my favorite authors. This one may not be one of my favorites of his, but I admire him because every book he writes is very different from all of his others (unlike, say, Anne Tyler or Louise Erdrich). This one features an archaeological dig on the eve of WWI in what will eventually become Iraq. We see something of the political machinations that were the seeds of the problems to come in the region, told through a fairly large, vividly drawn cast of characters. The story the ar ...more
Kathleen Gilroy
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger -- a Booker Prize winning historical novel about the Slave Trade. Land of Marvels is also historical fiction -- set in the days just prior to World War I in what was known as Mesopotamia of the Ottoman empire and what is now known as Iraq. The story involves several characters with dreams and aspirations to become much greater -- an archaeologist, his local "fixer," an American geologist, British diplomats -- and their wives. I found it to be a fascinat ...more
Mar 22, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm fascinated by the Ottoman empire. It is in the Mesopotamian desert of the Ottoman empire in its last days where this story begins. The Germans are building railways and otherwise aligning themselves with the Turks in the hope of taking a bigger slice of the Empire when it finally crumbles. The British, of course, believe that they are entitled to whatever they want. And American oil companies are sending engineers out to find reliable sources of oil to power their growing economy. Through al ...more
Nov 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
it took me awhile to plow through this one... i had to force myself to cut through the archaeology speak and middle eastern names, but i think it was worth it. for those interested in archaeology, it's definitely a good read!

initially it's hard to keep people straight, but you get sucked in and wonder what's in store for everyone. the author definitely builds up tension and you're a bit stressed towards the conclusion. there's a lot of intrigue and strong characters in this book. no one i really
Lucy Montgomery
After a slow start, I ended up enjoying Land of Marvels more than I expected. Described on the inside flap as a "historical thriller," I can't say I was hugely captivated or curious to the point of page turning about how the characters/story lines would intersect. However, the book is historically factual, topically unusual and well-written. Coincidentally, I was fortunate to visit the Middle Eastern Antiquities galleries at the Louvre a few weeks ago so I was much more familiar with the history ...more
Michael Alan Grapin
The year is 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the first world war. The location is Mesopotamia where several conflicting interests converge vying for personal, economical, political or scholarly gain. An archeologist is on the verge of a momentous discovery which is threatened by the German's construction of a railroad line. American, British and German financiers compete over rich oil reserves in the area and a self serving Arab will stop at nothing to earn the bride price of the woman he is ...more
Despoina Xr
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ένα παρά πολύ ωραίο βιβλίο.Εμένα προσωπικά μου αρεσουν και πολύ τα ιστορικά μυθιστορίματα. Το βιβλίο περιγράφει τα διάφορα παιχνίδια που γίνοτναι απο κράτη αλλά και εταιρίες με φόντο την περιχή της Μεσοποταμία. Το μόνο αρνητκό που βρίκα στο βιβλίο (που για μένα δεν ήταν αρνητικό αλλά για λόγους αντικειμενικότητας θα το αναφέρω)είναι οτι ο αναγνώστης πρέπει να διαθέτει εξαρχής κάποιες γνώσεις σχετικά με την ιστορία της περιοχής, καθώς στο βιβλίο μιλά για διάφορους πολιστισμους και δεν δίνονται οι ...more
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Barry Unsworth was born in 1930 in a mining village in Durham, and he attended Stockton-on-Tees Grammar School and Manchester University, B.A., 1951.

From 1951-53, in the British Army, Royal Corps of Signals, he served and became second lieutenant.

A teacher and a novelist, Unsworth worked as a lecturer in English at Norwood Technical College, London, at University of Athens for the British Council
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“The odds against this were tremendous, but Edith was not interested in the odds; people who thought about odds were unheroic and would never achieve anything. 20” 2 likes
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