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Novel of the week: Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth
Unsworth's 16th novel takes place in Mesopotamia in 1914, where an English archaeologist is pitted against his rivals' greed for oil.
 

Land of Marvels
by Barry Unsworth

Barry Unsworth’s “memorable” new tale about Westerners in 1914 Mesopotamia can be read as a protest against the arrogance that led the U.S. into Iraq five years ago, said Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post. Unsworth’s 16th novel sends a naïve English archaeologist into a hive of intrigue and double-dealing, and the protagonist’s humble quest for knowledge proves no match for his rivals’ thirst for oil. But Land of Marvels’ characters are so “believable and interesting,” and its plotting so intricate, that the book can simply be read “as singularly skillful entertainment.” There’s “mystery aplenty”—and murder, too, said Martin Rubin in the Los Angeles Times. What’s more, it’s all set against a compelling historical backdrop. Even so, Land of Marvels can’t be counted among the best efforts by Unsworth, a Man Booker Prize winner. The book is weakened by “wooden dialogue” and plot turns that “the reader can see coming a mile off.” You can enjoy the novel in much the way you’d enjoy a “smart puzzle,” said Clea Simon in the Boston Phoenix. But Land of Marvels “falls short of timelessness.”

 

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