Friday, February 20, 2009

What We're Reading: Land of Marvels

Land of Marvels is the 16th book of Barry Unsworth, British author and winner of the Booker Prize for Sacred Hunger. The year is 1914, World War I is looming on the horizon, and the Ottoman Empire - "the sick man of Europe" - is about to fall. John Somerville is an archaeologist who has been excavating a site in Mesopotamia looking for traces of the Assyrian Empire; the site lies in the path of the railroad from Constantinople to the Persian Gulf being funded by Germany. Somerville isn't the only one interested in that region. Britain, France, Germany, United States, Russia - they are all there since they have discovered that the lands are oozing the new fuel source - petroleum - which will shape the future of their empires. They want pieces of territory since the Ottoman Empire is disintegrating. The geopolitical self-interest and cross-purposes are at the heart of the story and the climax shows "the danger of human overreaching".

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