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The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom…

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

by Tom Rachman

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Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman is a highly recommended novel of suspense that follows Tooly Zylberberg through three decades and around the world.

Opening in 2011, Tooly currently owns a used bookstore in the Welsh town of Caergenog. Tooly may be leading a quiet, hard drinking, book-filled life now, but her past was anything but ordinary. Normally she avoids talking about her childhood, but when an ex-boyfriend contacts her about a dying man he believes is her father, Tooly is given the impetus to examine her life and travel the world, again, in order to decipher what really happened to her in her childhood and maybe help her find some closure.

In this coming-of-age story, the chapters jump from 1988, to 1999/2000, to 2011, following Tooly's life at ages 9, 20/21, and 32. Tooly's globe trotting childhood that had her in Sydney, Bangkok, New York, and Wales. As she seeks to clarify the mystery of her childhood, you will need to pay close attention to the year you are in and keep a clear head about what has happened before in that year to follow the cast of characters and how they are influencing Tooly's life.

It becomes clear that Tooly's childhood was less than ideal as she was traveling around Asia. What a child thinks is true can usually be quite different from the truth an adult construes based on the facts. Secrets that a child may not comprehend an adult can often interpret after the fact. Following the three different time periods in Tooly's life and the adults she was with show immediately why Tooly was scarred and who was trying to be nurturing to her, but greater revelations about motives come at the end of the novel.

This is definitely a book that you need to keep your wits about you when reading to follow along the different time periods and characters. I'm going to have to admit that I never felt totally engrossed in Tooly's story in all the time periods, but still appreciated the structure Rachman chose to use to tell her story.

It is a deliciously written book, however, which helps encourage reading and following the storylines. The prose often made up for other little parts I was not enjoying as much. There are some diverse, thought-provoking topics covered in The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, and he also covers the history and advances of the time periods neatly. And it can be sad.
“We’re like a lost tribe, people like us,” he mused. “No traditions, no birthright, to be brutally honest. All of us have an acorn of sadness,” he continued, pressing the magnifying glass to his eye. “You notice our tristesse only in passing, like a door to a small room in a house where outsiders may not enter.” (Location 601)

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley for review purposes. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
I got 100 pages into this book and for the life of me I can't tell you what this book is about. This book is a perfect example of a critics darling. Sure the writing is well done but there is nothing to the story, I am not sure there is even a plot. It seems to be told at three different times and yet nothing - at least in the first 100 pages seems to be revealed about why it is being told this way. You have a quirky lead character but so what. With so many books out there I can't stand wasting time on pretentious drivel like this. ( )
  zmagic69 | Mar 8, 2016 |
Recently I’ve started my reading/reviewing process differently. I go to Goodreads and find a one or two star review (hopefully one without spoilers) and learn exactly how bad the book can be. Then I open the book and start to read. What happens? I am almost always pleasantly surprised.

This is the case with Tom Rachman’s The Rise & Fall of Great Powers. After reading the bad review I expected to be bored and confused. However, after finishing the book, I found the writing and story to be engaging and really easy to follow.

Tooly Zylberberg had an unconventional childhood. She was raised by a group of drifters, thieves and scoundrels after she was ‘taken’ from her home in Maryland. Now in her early thirties she is the owner of a second hand bookstore in Wales. After her ex-boyfriend calls to say that her father is ill, she decides to venture to New York to confront the characters from her past and learn the truth about her upbringing.
The novel alternates between 1988, 1999 and 2011. Some say that this alternating structure is confusing, and while there is an array of colourful characters, they are so distinct that I didn’t feel at all lost.

While the story is a mystery, at the heart of the novel are the characters. Humphrey, an old Russian intellectual and great reader; Sarah – a flighty and flirtatious groupie; Paul – a rather odd bird enthusiast; Venn – the mysterious and charismatic leader of the group, and many others you will love and/or hate.

It is interesting to follow Tooly through her discoveries and you realise that events from her childhood did not actually happen as she remembered them. The fallibility of memory, especially when we were young, is a core theme of the book. How well do we really know the people who raised us?

This is an enjoyable read with some breath-taking prose and philosophical ideas.
( )
  tashlyn88 | Feb 5, 2016 |
I just finished this one last night, and the longer I mull it over, the more I love it. Humphrey is, quite possibly, one of the greatest characters ever written. That's not to take away from the other, superbly written, characters in this story. I struggled some in the beginning given the rather vague plot, but I ended up in total admiration at the author's ability to bring such interesting personalities to life. This one may end up a 5 star. ( )
  joyhclark | Jan 20, 2016 |
This is somewhere between a 4 and 5 star rating. I'll give it the extra one for making me cry despite some eye rolling earlier on. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Nov 26, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
Tom Rachman’s ingenious second novel, “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers,” is harder to describe than “The Imperfectionists,” his sensational first.
The richness of this book is more apparent once the reading is over. In other words, “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers” is knottier than “The Imperfectionists,” and more deliberately confusing.
added by sneuper | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Jun 10, 2014)
Mingling these time frames and withholding explanations about characters’ relations to each other, Rachman raises the stakes of this minor mystery somewhat higher than the novel can ultimately afford.
Now beyond resentment or blame, she just wants a usable past and someone worthy of her tender heart. Rachman is certainly such a person, and in these pages, you may discover that you are, too.
added by sneuper | editWashington Post, Ron Charles (Jun 10, 2014)
To my taste, at least at the outset, Rachman steers dangerously close to being merely whimsical. There's something slightly cutesy about the wall-to-wall eccentricity, something slightly precious about the fey withholding of information from the reader.
I had a little snooze on page 40, but by page 340 I was bolt awake. I'll keep The Rise and Fall of Great Powers on my shelf.
added by sneuper | editthe Guardian, Sam Leith (Jun 5, 2014)
Some novels are such good company that you don’t want them to end; Tom Rachman knows this, and has pulled off the feat of writing one.
All this amounts to a touching story of fallen idols, with brilliant insight into misplaced loyalties, and the power that adults have over children. Rachman has written a hugely likeable, even loveable book about the people we meet and how they shape us.
added by sneuper | editthe Telegraph, Lucy Daniel (Jun 4, 2010)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tom Rachmanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stheeman, TjadineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Voorhoeve, OnnoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385676956, Hardcover)

The New York Times and Globe & Mail-bestselling author of The Imperfectionists returns with an intricately woven novel about a bookseller who travels the world to make sense of her puzzling past.
     Tooly Zylberberg tells a story: as a child, she was stolen from home, stashed at a den of thieves, then adopted by crooks there, who ended up raising her and even using the little girl in capers around the globe. But Tooly understands only fragments of what happened in Thailand, Italy, New York and beyond. Then, a desperate message reaches her musty bookshop in Wales, and she is lured into a journey that will reveal the secret of her childhood. Celebrated for his ingenious plotting, humanity and humor, Tom Rachman has written a novel that will amplify his reputation as one of the most exciting young writers today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:11 -0400)

Tooly Zylberberg, the American owner of an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside, conducts a life full of reading, but with few human beings. Books are safer than people, who might ask awkward questions about her life. She prefers never to mention the strange events of her youth. Tooly believes she will never know the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search for answers.… (more)

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