The Rise and Fall of Great Powers

12 CDs. 15 hrs. Random Audio. 2014. ISBN 9780804164573. $35. digital download. F
In 2011, thirtysomething Matilda "Tooly" Zylberberg settles down from a lifetime of wandering, purchasing a nearly bankrupt bookstore in a sleepy Welsh village. Tooly's mysterious past soon invades this tranquil setting, however, and she travels back to New York City, where she spent her tumultuous 20s. The novel nimbly shifts from the 2011 present to 1988, when Tooly traveled the world with government contractor and maybe-father Paul, to 1999–2000, when she associated with a group of misfits led by a con man named Venn. While these three plots move along distinct time lines, familiar characters appear and disappear, gradually revealing to Tooly the painful secrets of her past. While the story line is maddeningly slow at times, Rachman's quirky characters, delightfully narrated by Penelope Rawlins, will keep listeners on edge. Like his debut novel, The Imperfectionists, Rachman's character-driven work is heavy on dialog, and Rawlins especially shines in her performances of ten-year-old Tooly; the bumbling but lovable Paul; Humphrey, an elderly eccentric with a heavy Russian accent and the closest thing Tooly had to a parental figure; and flighty socialite Sarah, Tooly's maybe-mother.
VERDICT Recommend this gem to all fans of contemporary fiction.
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