The Rise & Fall of Great PowersPosted: February 9, 2016
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel
The Dial Press (June 10, 2014), 385 pages
Kindle edition $11.99, Amazon trade paperback $10.52
I read this book because of the good reviews that it got and because I enjoyed Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, a novel about an English-language newspaper in Europe obviously modeled on the fabled International Herald Tribune.
The novel is the story of a woman named Tooly who is, to use the cliché, in search of her identity. The novel cycles among three time periods: 1988, when she was a child; 1999, when she was college-aged (though not in college); and 2011, when she is an adult.
Tooly, her proper name being Matilda, was raised by a man named Paul who dragged her around Asia during her childhood as he engaged in various computer contract jobs. Every so often a mysterious woman named Sarah swoops in for a short while, entertains Tooly, and then disappears. Tooly is mentored by a con man who trains her in her skills. She befriends a man named Humphrey, apparently a Russian immigrant.
The Rise & Fall is about Tooly’s life with these odd people and her trying to figure out what her origins are and who these people in her life really are. The book was listed in NPR’s 2014 Book Concierge (their “guide to 2014’s great reads”), and got great reviews. It didn’t work for me. Had I not invested $11.99 in the book, I probably would have stopped reading it a quarter of the way through. While I was sad to have left the world of Unaccustomed Earth, I was all too happy to get out of this one.
It may be time to return to nonfiction for a book or two.