March 7, 2009

Land Of Marvels

Land of Marvels
Barry Unsworth


(March 7, 2009)

This historical novel on Mesopotamian archaeology in the Spring of 1914 is well crafted, well written, and filled with more brooding misfortune than its slender frame can carry. The desert may be hot but it is not brightly lit, and all Unsworth’s characters know from the outset that they are second rate, not quite sufficient for the moment. Though the historical stage is filled with colorful and brightly-lit characters – Gertude Bell, T. E. Lawrence – Unsworth confines himself to a little-known dig where two British archaeologists have nearly lost hope of finding anything before the arrival of a German rail line that they (unreasonably) believe will obliterate their excavation. This is a very sad book but the sadness is not Ishiguro’s unbearable misery, but merely the crushing weight of the approach of terrible events.