Monday, June 9, 2014

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel

Title:  The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel
Author:  Tom Rachman
Publication Information:  The Dial Press. 2014. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0679643656 / 978-0679643654

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Friends required a life story. Your past mattered only if others sought to know it - it was they who demanded that one possessed a history. Alone, you could do without."

In the first three chapters of this book, we meet Tooly Zylberberg at three points in her life.

In 2011, Tooly is thirty-something and living a quiet life. She owns a small bookstore in the Welsh countryside. Her bookstore does not generate an income to sustain itself; yet, Tooly seems to have an independent source of income. She seems to have no ties to anyone except for Fogg, who works in the bookstore. Yet, she spends considerable time searching the people of her past on the Internet.

In 1999, Tooly is a young-adult living in New York City, somewhat adrift but finding herself a place among the students of the city.

In 1988, Tooly is a young girl moving from place to place with Paul, who may or may not be her father. Paul is somewhat absent-minded and has a reason that he cannot go home. So, he takes on a job that requires him to move every year to two years. Tooly moves along with him and then beyond him.

The story shifts between the three time periods consistently throughout the book. The characters start to overlap between the time periods. Each section tells a little bit more about Tooly's life that helps create more sense out of either the past or the future.

The book is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle - you have bits and pieces that don't seem to belong. Yet, as you fit more and more pieces in, a picture emerges. To some extent, that seems to be Tooly's journey as an adult - to try and make sense of her disheveled life.

What I love about the book is the character of Tooly, particularly as a child. I want to reach out and protect her from some of the adults in her life and from the life she led as a child. I find myself cheering for the adults who do reach out and provide a stability in her life.

What I also love is the writing. The changing time periods and the overlapping characters make the book difficult to follow at times. I find myself flipping often to the chapter titles, which identify the time period. Yet, at the same time, the writing weaves it all together like a tapestry, and Tooly's character throughout is the binding force of the book.

What I do not enjoy about the story is the fact that the book implies a great mystery about Tooly's life as a child. The book description even says, "Tooly ... believes she will never understand the true story of her own life." Yet, her life story - one of adults who don't behave in the best interest of a child - is not that extreme and not that unusual. As a result, I find the mystery and its resolution at the end disappointing.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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