Monday, January 5, 2009

A "Land of Marvels" But No Emotion

Barry Unsworth's "Land of Marvels" is set in the Middle East in 1914, in an area that would become Iraq. The novel takes you into the desert with Somerville, an archaeologist searching for his big discovery. Somerville is in a race against time and circumstance--the railroad is about to be built through his dig site and all of Europe--and by extension, the Middle East--is on the edge of war. Will he make his big discovery, or will forces larger than him--the war, the railroad, the quest for oil--get the better of him. 

Unsworth's novel is full of historical detail and political intrigue. It is well written and complex. However, it is missing, for me, a critical element--character development and emotion. Unsworth's characters are flat--nothing that happens to them over the course of the novel changes them at all. This surprised me, for Unsworth is a novelist that was praised for his character development. The characters in the novel also lack emotional depth. It was unbelievable to me that any of these characters cared about each other because they were all so cold and unfeeling. 

I would recommend this book to people interested in Iraq before WWI and the political intrigue of the era. However, if you like books with more emotion and heart, I would recommend that you look elsewhere.

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