Quick! Read This: The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

Books by Tom Rachman

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is the latest novel from author Tom Rachman. His first novel was The Imperfectionists. Learn more about the author at tomrachman.com.

School has disappeared me again. I’m studying how to teach Chaucer to grade school and college students this term. Did you know that Terry Jones, one of the members of Monty Python, is a Chaucer scholar? After learning that factoid, I attempted again to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail on DVD. I’ve seen chunks of Monty Python films and TV episodes before, but I just don’t “get” their brand of humor. My husband is a fan and we both enjoyed seeing the musical Spamalot when it came to Atlanta’s. However, my newly-acquired Chaucer knowledge didn’t loosen up my funny bone during the Holy Grail viewing. I am finding Jones’s book Chaucer’s Knight a most useful text for school.

I believe that author Tom Rachman would understand the above literary rambling. When I arrived at pages 162-163 of the advanced reader copy of Rachman’s second novel, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, I cried with laughter because I recognized myself and some of the literary scholars and students I’ve encountered in grad school. Rachman satirically fillets a literary studies student–a character named Emerson no less–on these two pages. But Emerson is only one of the many robust and intricate characters found in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. Since this is a “Quick! Read This” post, I’ll share a better description of the book from Random House:

Publisher's Description of The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
Tooly Zylberberg, the American owner of an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside, conducts a life full of reading, but with few human beings. Books are safer than people, who might ask awkward questions about her life. She prefers never to mention the strange events of her youth, which mystify and worry her still. Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? There was Humphrey, the curmudgeonly Russian with a passion for reading; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who sowed chaos in her wake; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader whose worldview transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he disappeared. Years later, Tooly believes she will never understand the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend in New York, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search of answers. Tom Rachman—an author celebrated for humanity, humor, and wonderful characters—has produced a stunning novel that reveals the tale not just of one woman but of the past quarter-century as well, from the end of the Cold War to the dominance of American empire to the digital revolution of today. Leaping between decades, and from Bangkok to Brooklyn, this is a breathtaking novel about long-buried secrets and how we must choose to make our own place in the world. It will confirm Rachman’s reputation as one of the most exciting young writers we have.

A big fan of Rachman’s first novel, The Imperfectionists, I thoroughly enjoyed this follow-up. Rachman may one day find himself the focus of the literary scholarship he pokes fun at in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. To learn more about the author, visit his website at tomrachman.com.

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