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The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel Hardcover – June 10, 2014
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As a child, Tooly Zylberberg led a peripatetic existence. Paul, her less-than-attentive father, took her from from her unfit mother, and he and Tooly traveled from Australia to Bangkok, thanks to his short-term, government-funded computer assignments. Left to her own devices much of the time, it seemed inevitable that Tooly would fall in with a ragtag group of ex-pats—mercurial Sarah, Russian literature lover Humphrey, and their Svengali-like leader, Venn—who took her under their collective wing. What is not predictable, however, is that Tooly will be abducted once again when Venn and company elevate her from mascot to compatriot. Rachman, celebrated for The Imperfectionists (2010), spans the last 30 years in this tale of a rocky road to adulthood. Over the course of flashbacks and fast-forward escapades, Tooly gradually pieces together the jigsaw of her unconventional life to confront a complete picture that isn’t always comforting. Rachman’s kaleidoscopic second novel demonstrates that one’s family is very often made up of the people you find and who find you along the way. --Carol Haggas
“Ingenious . . . [Tom] Rachman needs only a few well-drawn characters to fill a large canvas and an impressive swath of history.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“A superb follow-up to 2010’s The Imperfectionists . . . ambitious and engaging.”—The Seattle Times
“Engaging and inventive . . . full of wonderfully quirky, deeply flawed, but lovable characters . . . On the spectrum of interesting literary childhoods, Tooly Zylberberg—the protagonist of Tom Rachman’s second novel—would rank somewhere in the vicinity of Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“I found it impossible not to fall in love with shape-shifting Tooly. As an adult, she sports an ironical sense of humor and an attraction to dusty old books. As a child, her straight-faced mirth and wordplay are break-your-heart irresistible.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“[A] read-it-all-in-one-weekend book.”—The New Republic
“A compelling page-turner . . . intricate, sprawling, and almost Dickensian.”—USA Today
“Rachman’s comedic powers drive the story, with grace and wit. . . . [He] can compose sentences, paragraphs and whole pages with near perfect pitch and rhythm.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A smart, rollicking novel.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Tom Rachman creates this whole world of complicated, flawed and endearing characters who keep you wanting more.”—NPR
“Marvelously written . . . highly recommended for its prose and for presenting us with the strangely endearing, surprisingly good-natured, unabashedly weird character named Matilda ‘Tooly’ Zylberberg.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Living on the edge has its pitfalls—and charms—in British author Tom Rachman’s cracking new novel. . . . We are treated to Rachman’s rich gift not only for bringing his book’s personae completely to life but for doing so with great wit and a penchant for Dickensian names. . . . But if the novel starts with the feel of Oliver Twist . . . it morphs into a sort of Great Expectations—and we buy every wonderful word of it.”—The Buffalo News
“If you’re in the market for an accomplished and satisfying novel, one that will take hold of you immediately from page one and set you down gently at the end feeling uplifted and rewarded, you could just stop reading at the end of this paragraph and wander over to your favourite bookstore and buy a copy of Tom Rachman’s exquisite new book, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers. . . . This is what fiction is all about. It is impossible to overstate its power and elegance.”—The Globe and Mail
“For a novel that takes place on three different continents over a period of thirty years, Tom Rachman’s The Rise & Fall of Great Powers is a surprisingly small story. That’s probably what makes it so good: Even with all the flights of fancy and exotic locales, the characters in it are beautifully human, even if half of them are con artists with Dickensian names. After his much acclaimed 2010 debut, The Imperfectionists, Rachman uses this follow-up to prove he’s a writer to watch. [Grade:] A”—The A.V. Club
“Rachman clearly has Dickens in mind as inspiration for this sprawling tale of an orphan cast out onto the world and belatedly investigating the mystery of her origins. . . . Its pleasures are almost architectural. . . . You may come to admire, as I did, the precision of its observations, as well as its intricate form and the way stray plot pieces eventually snap into place.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR
“A satisfying jigsaw . . . Bring on the third masterpiece.”—The Sydney Morning Herald
“This book is mesmerising: a thorough work-out for the head and heart that targets cognitive muscles you never knew you had. Thanks, though, to Rachman’s lightness of touch and quite considerable streaks of silliness, it feels much more like dancing than exercise.”—The Times (UK)
“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. . . . Rachman has written a hugely likeable, even loveable book about the people we meet and how they shape us.”—The Telegraph (UK)
“Ingeniously orchestrated.”—Vanity Fair
“The observations raised in this novel emerge from the very specific tale of one woman and her extremely unusual circumstances, but what they all point to is a kind of reckoning with the most fundamental questions of human existence: who we are, and why. . . . While Rachman's novel offers no easy answers—indeed, how could it?—it provides a worthwhile investigation into our insatiable need for self-knowledge, a desire that is profoundly and inescapably part of what it means to be human.”—Chicago Tribune
“Tom Rachman’s second novel is a great jigsaw-puzzle of a book, spanning a quarter of a century and with its pieces scattered all over the world. . . . It’s in something of that spirit that, as the book moves towards its end, the strange gravities that hold its constellation of characters together start to make sense—upsetting both Tooly’s and the reader’s expectations in a satisfying and rather poignant way.”—The Guardian (UK)
“Tom Rachman scores again . . . [Tooly] is plucky and admirable and so fully drawn that you watch with horror as she makes terrible and cruel choices through her young adulthood. . . . We watch with admiration as Tooly’s heart opens up and she does her best to correct and amend for her past behaviors. . . . This is a satisfying adult novel with a hopeful ending.”—The Oregonian
“Tremendously readable, with characters who often spark and jump off the page, and a central puzzle that grips you until the end.”—The Huffington Post
“When a Tom Rachman novel lands in the bookstores, I stop living and breathing to devour it. It’s hard to think of anyone who has a better grasp on the world we live in (and I mean, like, the entire planet) and can write about it with such entertainment and panache.”—Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure
“The haunting tale of a young woman reassessing her turbulent past . . . brilliantly structured, beautifully written.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Rachman’s kaleidoscopic second novel demonstrates that one’s family is very often made up of the people you find and who find you along the way.”—Booklist
“A suspenseful novel that whisks readers around the world . . . [a journey] worth taking.”—Publishers Weekly
“A tale about the mystery of the self, the power of books, and how truth and fiction can inextricably intermingle . . . captivating.”—Library Journal
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Top customer reviews
The plot of this exquisite novel is that of the mystery of her life. Her early memories are of a wandering life with the deeply mysterious Paul. At the age of ten, her mother appears in Thailand only to turn her over to the charismatic Venn who shares her upbringing with Humphrey. As the novel progresses we share with her quest to discover the role of these people in forming her. As a child she gravitates to other outcasts, though she is sometimes burned because some children are outcasts for very good reasons. She mixes easily with adults. She is trained to always watch people, always observe. And of course she learns to find companions in books.
This is a reader's book. It is a meringue of world views. One is liberally challenged to not wander off on a stream of Slob Gravity to pursue the authors at play on these pages. And I spent many a side trip in Wikipedia tripped up by Murphy's liberal interpretation of the lives of philosopher's. Tooley believes that books contain the reader's past, "the texture of being oneself at a particular place, a particular time." This book will certainly serve as a such piece of me.
this new novel is an inventive and sometimes tricky tale of an unusual 'family', told by following the story of tooly - an eccentric woman with an unconventional upbringing.
i must confess that i typically love any book that has a bookshop owner as a central character, and even more so when the bookshop is located in a charming overseas village! this book has that, and so much more!
this book is also a tribute to book books - and has me wondering about a future where they might not actually be paper books - just electronic readers. books in this book are revered and precious!
you will definitely meet some unique characters in this novel and you will not be saying - oh, of course that's what is going to happen; i saw that coming...
this is a work of great imagination, and skillful storytelling!
as the story travels back and forth through tooly's life, you will experience that feeling that time maybe isn't just forward-moving, but circular and forever spiraling just like Gatsby's 'and so we beat on, borne ceaselessly into the past...'
there are also clever and thought provoking conversations about historical happenings in the 20th century and about the demise of civilization - as one character puts it - what people had been and what they've become....
so spend some time with this rag tag group of 'grifters' off to see the world!
if you are a lover of books, you will definitely enjoy the trip!
Most recent customer reviews
Pretty bad, I overpaid by about $1.70.
Pointless and boring.