The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

Dial. May 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780679643654. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812995725. F
Thirtyish Matilda "Tooly" Zylberberg lives quietly as the owner of a small bookstore in an isolated Welsh village. But her past has been nowhere near as sedate. Taken away from a home as a small child, Tooly moved around the world with Paul, a government contractor, who may or may not have been her real father. Entering fifth grade, she was taken away by Sarah and lived among a group of quirky characters, including Sarah, who grew up in Africa and may be her mother; Humphrey, a bookish old eccentric with a Russian accent; and Venn, a peripatetic hustler with a knack for landing on his feet. Then, a call from a former boyfriend in New York propels Tooly on a journey to understand her origins.
VERDICT Rachman's novel is a mystery of sorts, moving episodically between 1988 and 2011 as the reader attempts to unravel the truth of Tooly's identity at the same time she does. In a novel where every character has created a semifictional persona, this is a tale about the mystery of the self, the power of books, and how truth and fiction can inextricably intermingle. A captivating, if slightly overlong puzzle of a novel by the author of The Imperfectionists. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/13.]
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