Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Land of Marvels - Barry Unsworth

Take yourself back to the tense times in the Middle East just before the outbreak of World War I. The world is beginning to fully wake up to the need for oil in the new modern world and the importance of securing a steady supply. The world powers are manouvering for access to the newly discovered desposits in what will become modern day Iran.

However, as many of us will know from ancient history, Mesopotamia was the birthplace of civilisation, and a British archaeologist, Sommerville, dreams of finding fame and reknown. His wife is wondering about her marriage, while Sommerville's assistant has fallen for a young female research assistant. This little community of Brits is living together and tensions are heightened when the British government sends an America geologist posing as an archaeologist to work with them. Sommerville is in a constant state of nerves as he fears that the building of a German railroad will cut through his digsite.

Outside this community there is Jehar, a local who carries messages for Sommerville and dreams of making a life with the woman he loves. It is his desire to earn her bride price, along with Sommervillles fear of the approaching German railroad that ultimately leads to the surprising climax of the novel.

This novel skilfully mixes politics, intrgue, espionage, history and human nature. The growing desire for oil in the early twentieth century is still present today, especially in the context of the Middle East. The novel is an easy read, although there are scholarly passages on geology and Assyrian history. The characters are what make this novel shine.

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