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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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3725329,102 (3.68)38



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Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
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 |
Tooly Zylberberg’s meandering through life has brought her to World’s End, a former pub now bookstore, in a small Welsh village near the English border. Of course no one ends up owning a bookstore by mere chance. Yet that is precisely what happened to Tooly as she spotted an ad for the quaint little shop in a literary magazine whilst travelling on the far side of the world. Now she walks the Welsh hills, takes a variety of evening classes, including ukulele lessons, and immerses herself in books. But for Tooly, her life has yet to catch up with her, and when it does, she’ll have to travel half way around the world again in order to reach the end.

Having set it’s own conditions, the novel then revisits moments in Tooly’s life in three decades. We see her with her father in Thailand as a little girl, in New York about a dozen years later insinuating herself into a group of NYU graduate students, and back in Wales. Gradually details emerge that reveal Tooly as having led an extraordinary life. And while it often borders on the tragic, Rachman’s is essentially a romantic view of people, places, and events. Tooly usually encounters good-hearted people and even the scoundrels have hearts of gold. It makes for a curious lack of tension over the course of a long novel, which is disguised by the interleaved periods of Tooly’s life and the drip-feed of information about what her real situation was and is. The effect is a certain detachment. Although the reader will feel attachment to the many sympathetic characters, it is hard to feel as though you really know any of them, including Tooly, despite Rachman’s desperate need to explain them all in the end.

The writing here is interspersed with wit and charm, as well a fair dose of quotation, allusion and reference, as befits a novel so tied to a life submerged in books. It is a pleasant read for anyone who also delights in the life of books, and on that basis can easily be gently recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Nov 21, 2015 |
Dazzling reading by Penelope Rawlings in audio version. Story of an uber- spunky girl's life. Non-linear narrative is somewhat challenging to read but intriguing construction and inspired writing. Loved main character -- Tooley. Difficult to handle my emotional responses to her precarious life situations and decadent people around her. Though all this was written in semi magic realist tone., with just enough reality in the various characters depicted to imagine all sorts of tragic fates awaiting Tooley throughout her first twenty-something years. But survive she does in her naive but wise stumble through life. A really engrossing and enjoyable book. ( )
  C-WHY | Nov 1, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (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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