Arianna's Reviews > The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
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really liked it
bookshelves: netgalley, library-book, nbpl, bookpage

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.


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Reading Progress

April 16, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
April 16, 2014 – Shelved
June 21, 2014 – Started Reading
June 21, 2014 – Shelved as: netgalley
June 24, 2014 – Shelved as: library-book
June 24, 2014 – Shelved as: nbpl
June 25, 2014 – Shelved as: bookpage
July 9, 2014 –
page 144
37.5% "Okay, I LOVE this book so far. But I've seen several typos already. Kind of diminishes my enjoyment. =/"
July 11, 2014 –
page 217
56.51% ""People did not see the world for what it was but for what they were.""
July 13, 2014 – Finished Reading

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