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The Fall of Rome

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  485 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
Latin instructor Jerome Washington is a man out of place. The lone African-American teacher at the Chelsea School, an elite all-boys boarding school in Connecticut, he has spent nearly two decades trying not to appear too "racial." So he is unnerved when Rashid Bryson, a promising black inner-city student who is new to the school, seeks Washington as a potential ally again ...more
Paperback, 219 pages
Published June 1st 2003 by Pocket Books (first published January 1st 2002)
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Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, serene and sad, think Dead Poets Society meets Go Tell it on the Mountain. A first novel which is remarkable. If you have a thing for novels/movies about inspirational teachers but also get the difficulties of teaching and working in education itself, I cannot recommend this book enough.
I stumbled upon this novel through an article on the website Off The Shelf while searching for books about one of my favourite subjects - private schools.

Over the years I've read some of the better known novels by picking them up for different reasons - Prep, The Secret History, and Never Let Me Go - and enjoying each of its own accord (though I was disappointed by The Secret History at the time).

The Fall of Rome was the only book I could not seem to find an e-copy of easily, and it being a very
Dec 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Thank you Roberta Gardner for recommending this study in race and social class brilliantly portrayed in a 3-voiced story that I could not put down. The setting is at elite Connecticut boys school, Chelsea, mid 1990s. Their voices and lives intersect in unexpected ways, yet remain distinctive.
Jerome Washington, Latin instructor: I have been the only Negro on the faculty (A note: I am fully aware that Negro is no longer the fashionable term. It is, however, the term I prefer to use)....When I was
Jun 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a rather compelling novel about three characters who "live at the margins of the elite" by being in an an all-boys school for the wealthy and priveleged, with some "lower class" kids added in to secure school funding. Jerome Washington, Latin/Classics teacher, Negro, as he likes to call himself, can be said to be part of that affirmative action. Rashid Bryson, decades later, is also there for the same reason. The difference between the two, and really the whole point of the book, is how ...more
Sep 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love the fact that you get to experience this story through three different perspectives. It brings a lot of racial issues out for discussion without being too aggressive about it. I will admit I cried several times while reading from Rashid's point of view. It's worth the read.
Jan 21, 2013 rated it liked it
So I have been reading a lot of books about outsiders at prep schools as of late. This is almost the best of the books that I have read, but I am still conflicted about the book. First, I have to admit that it was a compelling read, there were moments when I really did not want to put it down. Second, I think her choice of creating an antagonism between an inner-city African American boy and the only African American member of the faculty was an inspired one. Which leads us into my largest probl ...more
Apr 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is why I read books!! I was about to dismiss this book because of its title. Then I considered what I would have titled it otherwise. I'm not quite sure, because you wouldn't want to sell it cheap.

The revolving perspectives in each chapter is an interesting device. I found it intriguing that the author chose first person for some of the characters but third for the young man. The examination of both race and class issues was handled thoughtfully. It felt like a movie at some points--in tha
Aug 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. I found the author's choice to tell the story through the eyes of three separate characters effective. Each of the three characters including a black teenager, a black male teacher and a white female teacher experienced the events in the book differently as filtered by their unique life experiences.

I had not heard of this author before reading an August 12th review of Katherine Stockett's The Help. This review included a short piece written by Ms Southgate. It was less than
Dec 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book, like seriously it was well written, quietly intelligent, eloquent, intriguing and thought provoking I just wish there wasn't so much I would change about it to make it amazing..So I have heard of the author Ms. Southgate before as an author and a newspaper columnist so I was excited to read this as it was promoted as being real and controversial and it was--it tells the story of an all boys private school with primarily white affluent boys attending and succeeding in life as ...more
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
This reminded me somewhat of Black Boy White School, although “The Fall of Rome” was published earlier and is arguably considerably more complex.

Much of this complexity owes itself to the multiple points of view, especially those of Jerome and Jana. Rashid’s story is important, but it’s also the most straightforward of the stories, rendering it sometimes predictable. Jana is a realistic blend of optimism and fatigue –- she still believes that she can make a difference, but she’s more or less giv
Awww I do like Martha Southgate!!!! But I don't always like her characters and this is one such book where I struggled to like at different times all of the main characters. That's what I like about Southgate, she doesn't give you predictable characters. She presents them in their complexity, with nuances and debatable traits. What I enjoyed about this story is that she presents African Americans not as one monolithic group and does an admirable if not short-sighted look at some individuals who ...more
Canice Johnson
Apr 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
I love the set up of this novel on how you had three main characters and you saw thier point of view of an issue and not just what someone thought they were thinking. You have three main characters Jerome Washington who is a black teacher, Rashid Bryson who is a student, and Jana Hansen who is a white teacher. These characters lives intertwine and unexpectedly shows who your friends are and who your enemies are. This book is set in a boarding school that is predominantly white and only one membe ...more
Mar 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Since I teach at an all-boys private school, many moments of this book rang true to me. What did not feel so realistic, however, was the character of Mr. Washington...I just felt like there should be more nuance to the character, who instead felt like such a wooden figure. The interplay between the two African-American main characters intrigued me, but ultimately I felt like the teacher's side of it was too rigid to be believed. Good story...certainly would be great for a conversation on themes ...more
Sep 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
I didn't even know about this book until the church book club in which I was a member selected it one month. It was wonderful, refreshing and not at all what I expected. I'm looking foward to reading some of Ms. Southgate's other titles. If only I had more time (smile).
I'm sure this is a great book. It wasn't for me. I wanted to like it but I just didn't care about the characters at all.
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is heartbreaking, with such well-written characters.
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
overall the story was fine, but I found some of the characters so wholly unlikable that it ruined the book for me
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. I really liked the provocative plot of the book - set at an elite mostly-white prep school in Connecticut, there's a clash between inner-city black student and an old-school "Let's not be racial, it's all about individual merit" black professor of Latin, rounded out by a white woman professor.

I felt like the novel did a really interesting job of setting up the conflicts and the dilemmas posed to the characters. There were a lot of very realistic scenes of how issues around race and p
Mar 04, 2009 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 09, 2012 rated it did not like it
1.5 stars.

Oh, if only this book had been at ALL well written. Martha, I don't know what went down at your MFA program, but please explain to me how a book with such wonderful conflicts had to read like it was written by and for a twelve year old????
I bumped this up half a star because the topic is so great - we are in a boys prep school, modern day, and the school is trying to 'diversify' because all white just doesn't please the masses anymore. In the meantime, the one black teacher there has a
Lucy Barnhouse
This book is beautifully lyrical, profoundly sad without being sentimental, and hopeful without being blindly optimistic. Southgate's evocation of rough Brooklyn streets and the unreal beauties of autumn at a Connecticut boarding school has an eerie perfection, each detail delicately balanced. One of the most remarkable things about the book, to me, is how such a slim novel manages to address several big issues without becoming unwieldy. Gaps in generational understanding are dealt with, as pare ...more
While reading this I was just so frustrated with Jerome Washington. By the time I got to the end though all I felt was pity. Rashid Bryson is undeniably a wonderful and promising young man. His dedication and perseverance were so admirable in spite of the tragedy he and his parents had to face. I liked Jana Hansen's role in the story especially since she served as a counterbalance to Jerome and a source of encouragement to Rashid.

Random commentary:
I see that the Goodreads blurb about this book
Aug 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alternating chapters are told in the voice of (1) a longtime African American teacher of classics at an elite New England prep school for boys; (2) a new English teacher at the school, recently divorced and attracted to (1), who previously taught for many years at an innter city school in Cleveland; and (3) (told in third-person for some reason) a 14-year-old African American boy from Brooklyn who enrolls at the mostly white school after his promising older brother is killed in a senseless shoot ...more
Keely *Keelskilo*
May 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: meh
I feel like it might be some sort of curse to give this book a bad rating since I'm a young white girl living in a safe neighborhood, but I'm going to do it anyways. Because it's not necessarily the content of the book that's the problem (even if people are going to insist I'm a racist pig despite that disclaimer) I just didn't like the writing, or the plot really.

Overall, issues addressed: good.

Follow through: meh.

Title to story accuracy: misleading. Very. I thought it was about THE FALL OF R
Jul 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having attended a majority white school as a young black female, I found this book very accurate in its portayal of an independent school system and its infrastructure. Southgate had me on edge as I read, trying to discover the resolution of this multiple perspective account. I appreciated the overlap of events and narration. I felt like I was given a supernatural omniscience that allowed me to truly enjoy the subject matter. There are some powerful issues raised in this novel; Southgate does a ...more
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is interesting but the execution was horribly boring and the sex scene in this book was really unnecessary. Southgate described it was to in detail i did not read to know that (i could just be acting imature but really who needs to know that) but the relationship between the two teachers were very highschool-ish and that's not a bad thing it was very interesting. i didn't like the ending though.
Dec 25, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't have the clearest memory of this book. I think I dead it during my Admissions days, on the road, because on the college counselors gave it to me. Anyway, from what I recall, it was fine. The reading was quick and Southgate touched on the black experience at private elite schools from the perspective a black teacher. It's worth a reread on my part.
Dec 09, 2008 rated it liked it
A decent novel attempting to grapple with racial issues in privileged academe. The plot and concept are better than the characterization and voice. In fact, if you combined this book's plot with the disturbing characterization of Donna Tartt's Secret History, you'd end up with something powerful enough and creepy enough for Toni Morrison. (Not like she'd bother with privileged academe.)
Oct 26, 2014 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed Southgate's writing style. There are moments of lyrical language and great passages. However, if you are looking for a novel-- I would not say this is one. The Fall of Rome is mostly an exploration of race. The characters are extremes of each other and every character stands as an ideal. I prefer my characters to be complex and vivid. However, I think its an important book to read.
Oct 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I'm a teacher, an English teacher, no less and saw myself in Jana, minus the affair with a colleague :). I've had students like Rashid - who are out of place in their own neighborhood and/or home. I enjoyed Ms. Southgate's take on Rashid's inner life. Although Jerome Washington is the central character, I hope to keep Rashid's voice, in my head, in my life as a teacher of many struggling young adolescents.

I stumbled upon "the Fall" at Paperback Swap; I wish it were more well known.
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Martha Southgate is the author of four novels. Her newest, The Taste of Salt, is available in bookstores and online now. Her previous novel, Third Girl from the Left won the Best Novel of the Year award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was shortlisted for the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy award. Her novel The Fall of Rome received the 2003 Alex ...more
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