Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers
Tom Rachman
4.5 / 5

Published 2014

First Sentence
"His pencil wavered above the sales ledger, dipping toward the page as his statements increased in vigor, the pencil tip skimming the pad, then pulling up like a stunt plane, only to plunge at moments of emphasis, producing a constellation of increasingly blunt dots around the lone entry for that morning, the sale of one used copy of
Land Snails of Britain by A.G. Brunt-Coppell (price: £3.50)."
Publisher's Description:
For fans of Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, and Donna Tartt—the brilliant, intricately woven new novel by Tom Rachman, author of The Imperfectionists

Following one of the most critically acclaimed fiction debuts in years,New York Times bestselling author Tom Rachman returns with a brilliant, intricately woven novel about a young woman who travels the world to make sense of her puzzling past.

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, which mystify and worry her still.

Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? There was Humphrey, the curmudgeonly Russian with a passion for reading; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who sowed chaos in her wake; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader whose worldview transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he disappeared.

Years later, Tooly believes she will never understand the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend in New York, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search of answers.

Tom Rachman—an author celebrated for humanity, humor, and wonderful characters—has produced a stunning novel that reveals the tale not just of one woman but of the past quarter-century as well, from the end of the Cold War to the dominance of American empire to the digital revolution of today. Leaping between decades, and from Bangkok to Brooklyn, this is a breathtaking novel about long-buried secrets and how we must choose to make our own place in the world. It will confirm Rachman’s reputation as one of the most exciting young writers we have.

Dear Reader,

I wanted this book to be a favorite, I really did. And it had a lot of potential to become one. Ultimately, it did not live up quite to that level, but it was VERY good, and deserves its place in the highlights of 2014 publications.  Rachman is a great story-spinner; I'll certainly have to check out The Imperfectionists now.

The book revolves around the past and present of Tooly Zylberberg, a thirty-something woman who currently owns a bookstore in the middle of nowhere in Wales. The story of how she became owner of this odd little shop is really the story of her entire past: the book skips between "now" (2011), "then" (1988), and "in-between" (1999), telling in fits and spurts the story behind Tooly. Along the way, the reader becomes familiar with all of her quirky companions, including the self-exiled Russian who reads non-fiction day in and day out, breaking things up with the occasional game of chess; the mysterious and flaky aging beauty who continually reappears in Tooly's life; the music-loving and rather unexpected boyfriend; and the smug and overly-confident man who skips around the world on a whim, the others following him like puppies. They are certainly a great assortment of personalities and flaws, especially when you throw Tooly into the mix: she is discontented, rather detached from the world, and very unique. The one overarching impression I took from all of these characters was the pure tragedy of all of their lives. Not one of them felt content with what they had, and they spent their lives chasing after mirages. Everyone was just so damned lonely. Which is probably what made this feel like such a true and solid piece of literature. Rachman wrote them all so believably. Some I wanted to befriend, some I wanted to punch, but really I cared to hear all of their stories.  Particularly that of Tooly's father figure during her formative years. I believe that his own lonesome past is what ultimately caused Tooly to be such a loner, herself.

I can't get very much into the story, and I think I've analyzed as much as I can out of the characters themselves, so I will leave things here. The book takes the reader through Wales, Budapest, and New York City, all of which the author writes of with ease and familiarity. While ultimately I think I was hoping there would be more of a "big reveal" at the end, I really did enjoy following Tooly's meandering path through both the world and her life, trying to figure out where things went next.


The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

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