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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 40 (next | show all)
Ehhh... what can I say? Despite the superior writing and intimate, original characterizations, I didn't come away a fan of this novel. And perhaps, I missed the point of it all. Had I read it in an English seminar or discussion group, I may have a more favorable opinion. As it is, it fell rather flat for me.

First of all, all the characters were terribly narcissistic and self-interested. I don't have a problem with this, as a rule (see also: my new-found love for Herman Koch, but I have to feel like the author is intentionally making the characters unlikable - except Humph (I have all the love in the world for Humphrey). Here, Rachman seemed to make the characters simultaneously despicable and appealing. That lent some depth to the main players, certainly, but there was a cold or distancing edge to all of them that kept me from truly connecting with their feelings or motivations.

Second, it took a tremendous amount of patience and stick-to-it-tiveness to even get through the read. The book oscillates between the past and the present with great frequency, leaving the reader to fumble through encounters that have had no previous introduction or segway. It was startling and confusing to flip between Tooly's past and the present. It was like trying to complete a puzzle without any straight-edged pieces. No frame of reference to indicate who certain characters may be in relation to Tooly. No set relationships upon which to draw a family-tree of sorts. The reader wants answers about the past just as badly as Tooly; however, the answers that were finally provided were lackluster and disappointing.

I have to say that this is a book that does get better as it goes on, but, then fell off somewhere near the end. It SHOULD have been a five star read due to the talent and skill of the author, but it wasn't. It was a "meh" on the scale of one to awesome. I really almost feel that it may have be a me thing - that it's my own fault that I'm not swoony over this one. Regardless, many thanks to NetGalley who provided a galley of this novel (it seems like ages ago - and was ages ago as I finished it at the end of July. Sometimes life gets in the way of prompt reviews. My many apologies, as well). ( )
1 vote myownwoman | Sep 11, 2014 |
I hate giving up on a book. HATE it. My eyes keep glazing over reading this one though. I should love it. I mean Tooley owns a bookstore! Which I haven't heard her mention much of yet in the book.
I think this might be one of those love or hate books and of course here I am hating. I can't figure out what the hell is going on in it.
DNF at 30%

But look! I'm using Brad Pitt...so it's not all bad.

I received an ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  bookqueenshelby | Sep 9, 2014 |
The story of Tooly (for Matilda) in three distinct time frames, which the book rotates through right to the end: 1988 when she is living in Bangkok with Paul (is he her Dad or not?), 1999/2000 when she is living in New York with Humphrey (who is Humphrey and why does she live with him?) and dating law student Duncan, and finally 2011 when she is running a second hand book store in a village in Wales, but returns to NY to care for Humphrey who is confused and destitute.

10 pages in, I nearly gave up, because I was finding it hard to work out what was going on, but I'm very glad I persevered, because I loved this book. It centres around the mysterious Venn, to whom Tooly seems to attribute godlike status and the unreliable Sarah, both of whom flit in and out of Tooly's life. Gradually (very gradually) we learn the mystery of Tooly's life: how she came to be living semi-secretly with Paul, how she came to live with Humphrey and (crucially) why and finally, what she is going to do with the rest of her life? I particularly appreciated the way this gradually unfolded, but that we had been given subtle clues and things that didn't really add up all along, so that the solution was convincing and made me feel clever for having suspected bits of it.

Without giving the plot away, I would say that this book is about betrayal and finding out who you want to be when you have to make your mind up for yourself. I loved the characters of Fogg, Duncan and his family and especially Paul (although his romantic life seemed extremely hard to believe) and I loved the ending, which I am choosing to interpret as hopeful. The rest of the book was sad, in a calm way; poor Mac and Bridget and even Duncan. Poor Paul (and so on). My only niggle is the fact that I find it hard to believe no one ever discovered that Tooly never went to school after she left Paul.

Highly recommended. ( )
  pgchuis | Sep 8, 2014 |
Many people, like me, will have come to The Rise and Fall of Great Powers after having read Tom Rachman's earlier loosely related collection of short stories in The Imperfectionists. this has much of the same quirkiness, but in a more sustained way. Moving back and forth between time periods, we follow young Tooly around the world including Wales, New York and . Hers is an unconventional upbringing, shrouded with mystery, not the least which being -- who are these strange people and what is her relationship to them? Iconoclastic Humphrey quickly became one of my favorite literary characters. The aptly named Venn, resembled the eponymous diagram in that he is defined most in those points in which his life intersects with others. If you dislike books with unreliable narrators, this one is not for you. If you must 'like' the protagonists, similarly avoid this book. If you are looking for solid writing, great characterization and an engaging plot, I heartily recommend this read. ( )
  michigantrumpet | Sep 4, 2014 |
Have you ever been so invested in a story that you were pretty much oblivious to anything else while in its grip? Well, that's exactly what happened to me when I was reading The Rise & Fall of Great Powers. Tom Rachman put some kind of spell on me and when I reached the end I was completely set adrift. In fact, I can't seem to summarize exactly how I feel about the book now that I've finished it. Clearly, I felt it to be a compelling read as I immersed myself in it utterly and totally. However, I can't seem to articulate my feelings now that it's concluded. I guess that makes sense as a large part of this book is the importance of time and how it's all relative (reminds me of a line from Doctor Who but I won't get into that here). I hesitate to put this book into any kind of niche because I think it stands alone and separate unto itself. I can't help a feeling a bit melancholy now that it's done but the knowledge that a) I can return to it anytime I want and b) I have another book by this author waiting to be read keeps me going. :-) If you want a book that will transport you, intrigue you, and baffle you then this is the one for you. READ IT. ( )
  AliceaP | Aug 25, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (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)

» Add other authors

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 Fri, 10 Jan 2014 17:56:13 -0500)

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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