Review by Reference Librarian Kerry Fitz-Gerald.
Booker prize winner Barry Unsworth’s most recent novel takes place in a far corner of Mesopotamia in 1914. The slow pacing, the evocative historical detail and the internal struggles of the female characters (secondary to the rather dramatic plot) make this a book worth reading. Critics have complained that the characters are uneven—true—and that the pacing is too slow—also true—but I’d still recommend the novel for its absorbing snapshot of the Ottoman Empire on the brink of its dissection by European powers. Seeds of the modern turmoil in Iraq are clear in the conflicts between the British archaeologist hurrying to uncover an Assyrian palace before his excavations are destroyed by a new railway to Baghdad, the American hunting for oil, and the mysterious and powerful Lord Rampling, who manipulates spies and assassins in a bid to keep the assets of the Ottoman Empire firmly in British hands.