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Pascali's Island Paperback – November 17, 1997

3.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Darkly ironic. . . . Offers an almost Conradian richness.” (The New Yorker)

“A compelling portrait of a schemer whose shabby amorality scarcely ensures his survival in a world where treachery is the rule.” (Boston Sunday Globe)

About the Author

Barry Unsworth (1930-2012), who won the Booker Prize for Sacred Hunger, was a Booker Prize finalist for Morality Play and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for The Ruby in Her Navel.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 17, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393317218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393317213
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #733,816 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It's not the mastery of language. Nor is it the precision with which Unsworth draws his characters. It is, rather, the skill, always evident in his work, with which he illuminates moral dilemnas that makes this book unforgettable. An intense foray into the mind and heart of am informer, this novel will touch all those who have ever wanted to tell their own story but felt unworthy. A very disturbing and moving work, like all of his other novels that I have read.
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Format: Paperback
I don't know anything about the author, Barry Unsworth, but this is a masterful work of fiction. It reads like a classic. It's engaging and well thought through. reminded me of Hemingway by way of Camus.
I read this after vacationing in the Greek isles, and the book definitely opened my eyes to some of the more recent history that often gets over-looked in favor of the ancient.
In the end, you may not like Pascalli himself, but you will come to understand him and his motivations. And as unlikeable as he can be, you may even feel sorry for him in the end.
A well told story, and a quick read that I would recommend to almost anyone.
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Format: Paperback
Poor Pascali is the anti hero of Barry Unsworth's short, atmospheric account of life in a remote part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. Self important, paranoid and fearful, Pascali a petty conman and spy, is desperate for love, recognition and wealth. Every night he dutifully compiles his intelligence reports for the Sultan which are never acknowledged. It is only through administrative inertia that he receives his pay as the system is close to collapse. New and sinister forces are gathering on the island and Pascali knows it is only a matter of time before he falls victim to one of these groups from which he is excluded for reasons of religion, race and birth. Unsworth is a master of characterisation and setting, providing a read that is both unsettling and memorable.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book let to one of the best spy movies made, in that it is true to the profession. The book, written in first person, bares the duplicity of all involved. While not very well known, it should be.
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By A Customer on February 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
This novel is a clever time machine. It warps the reader back to 1908, a sun-drenched island, characters abuzz with intrigue, complex psychologies, morphing intentions behind a mirage of simple diction. The far-off sultan is the ever-present "Excellency," steadily sinking into the quicksand upholstery of his throne. The icky Izzet, both product and perpetrator of Ottoman despotism, gives one a clearer idea of just why the Balkans are such a mess today. Mahmoud Pasha, his bellicose boss, reminds one of a stuffed and cogitating mushroom. There is the suave and sordid Herr Gesing, whose tightly wound cravats and sharply cut suits reek not of lavender but of gunpowder and guts. The lithe Lydia traipses around her studio, draws mysterious money, seemingly from cyberspace, frolics on beaches, and gets herself into the briniest of pickles. Anthony Bowles is friendly but fey. One does not know whether to sympathize with his obsessions or to flee them as one would wildly metastasizing microbes. And the weird Pascali? On the paperback cover, he is pictured in suit coat and bowler, bobbing like a fishing lure in a murky sea, the sky spread out over him as a Levantine tent. This seems like a good place for him, since he spends the entire novel observing what is visible, most of him hidden in a kind of mushy and underwater world. The reader will not soon figure him out, and this is part of the galling genius of Unsworth's achievement. To inhabit his mind from first chapter to last, and still never grasp who he is? Pascali is like a remote and glittering planet: observable, fascinating, but always agreeably distant and aloof.
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Format: Paperback
I have always been a great admirer of the late Barry Unsworth's work but this is not one of his best although its is still an interesting read .

Like many of his other novels, it is set in the eastern Mediterranean at the time of the decline of the Ottoman Empire and portrays some of the elements behind its fall, in this case the harsh treatment of the Christian Greeks by the Moslem Turks.

It is narrated by a Ottoman spy called Pascali who has been living on a Greek island for 20 years and sending back reports to Constantinople although he has never received a single piece of feedback in all this time. A mysterious Englishman arrives one day and Pascali – who is himself half-English – sets out to find out what he is up to. There are other foreigners on the island, mainly Germans trying to upset Britain's role in the region. I won't say any more so as not to spoil the plot but I found the ending unsatisfactory and not well explained.

The main problem is that everything is seen through Pascali's eyes in a report, addressed directly to the Sultan, which almost becomes an exercise in creative writing. Fact and fantasy become so entwined that it is not worth criticizing the book's lack of credibility. Nevertheless, as with most of Unworth's work, it is worth reading. A good filmed version was made, featuring Ben Kingsley, Charles Dance and Helen Mirren.
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