The rise and fall of great powers, Tom Rachman

Brought up with lies, deceit and deception Tooly Zylberberg now lives in a little village on the border between Wales and England, where she owns a bookshop. To be honest she is regretting buying the shop already, because she was raised not to connect with people or possessions. She used to travel from place to place and now she finds herself here in this little village. The only person she speaks to regularly is Fogg, the young man who helps her out in the shop and who thinks of himself as a Parisian, even though he ever left the village.

The bookshop is a nice little world, but in the back of her mind Tooly always thinks it may lot last and she could go somewhere else, not bound by people, places or time.

The she receives an email from somebody she knew in New York, who tells her her father is very ill. Despite not wanting to, Tooly leaves for New York only to find out nothing she always thought was true, is true, and all the people in her life played different roles than she always thought.

The story alternates between three times. We see Tooly in 1988 when she is ten years old and living in Bangkok with Paul, her father. He works with computers for different American embassies all over the world so every year Tooly has to get acquainted again with a new home and a new school and new people.

In 1999 Tooly has moved to New York where she lives with Russian emigrant Humphrey, who somehow played a huge role in her upbringing. Venn and Sarah are also important for her, although they are not always there. Tooly crosses the entire city on foot and meets student Duncan, who becomes her boyfriend.

In 2011 she lives in Wales in her bookshop and she gets the email from Duncan. She does not know what she will find in New York, but what she does find is nothing like she expected.

In a masterly way Tom Rachman knows how to twist and bring the different threads of this story together. So slowly, bit by bit we get to know what happened with Tooly and which roles the different people in her life played.

Tooly is both strong and vulnerable and that is what makes her very likeable. Very well done is the way Tom Rachman knows how to make Tooly’s voice different at different ages, yet it stays recognizable. The woman in 2011 is not the same as the child in 1988, but the core is the same. That is well written.

When everything turns out to be different than Tooly always thought, she does not despair or collapse. She uses the debris of her life to built a new life for herself. Not based on the lies she always believed, but based on what she knows to be true and that is how she can continue.

I do not really know how to express how much I enjoyed The rise and fall of great powers. I loved it, the idea was interesting and the writing was beautiful and often very witty.

I think this book will end up in my top-3 of 2014, I will be very surprised if it does not.

 Published in 2014


  1. I don't always like jumping around from one time period to another, but it sounds like it works in this book. And the fact that you're already putting it in your top 3 for the year says a lot. Great review!

    1. The time-jumping is done very well here, it is always clear which time it is. I loved this book, I really did. I immediatly bought his first book as well and I will read that very soon!

      Kind regards,


Post a Comment