“The Rise and Fall of Great Powers” by Tom Rachman

risefallgreatpowersTom Rachman made his name with his first novel, The Imperfectionists which became an international bestseller and was translated into twenty-five languages. With this second book, also a novel, he tells the rivetting story of a young woman who was abandoned as a child and spent years travelling the globe looking for her forebears.

Rachman himself was born in London and raised in Vancouver. He went to the University of Toronto and Columbia Journalism School and later worked as a journalist in New York, Rome and Paris. When his heroine in this book tramps the streets of Manhattan, or clambers around an island off Vancouver, you feel you are right beside her.

The book opens with Tooly Zylverberg reading in the tiny bookshop that she owns in Wales.  Her assistant, Fogg, is tidying books beside her. From here she sets out to find again the people who had cared for her as a child. It is a tricky story because Rachman includes the rise and fall of the American empire in the past twenty years. He also jumps from decade to decade all the while travelling from Sydney, Australia to Bangkok and beyond. He is a brilliant writer, and also full of surprises.

Review by Anne McDougall