The Imperfectionists

by Tom Rachman
Canada. 304 pages. 2010.

The Imperfectionists by Tom RachmanIn his zinger of a debut, Rachman deftly applies his experience as foreign correspondent and editor to chart the goings-on at a scrappy English-language newspaper in Rome. Chapters read like exquisite short stories, turning out the intersecting lives of the men and women who produce the paper—and one woman who reads it religiously, if belatedly.

In the opening chapter, aging, dissolute Paris correspondent Lloyd Burko pressures his estranged son to leak information from the French Foreign Ministry, and in the process unearths startling family fare that won’t sell a single edition. Obit writer Arthur Gopal, whose overarching goal at the paper is indolence, encounters personal tragedy and, with it, unexpected career ambition. Late in the book, as the paper buckles, recently laid-off copyeditor Dave Belling seduces the CFO who fired him. Throughout, the founding publisher’s progeny stagger under a heritage they don’t understand. As the ragtag staff faces down the implications of the paper’s tilt into oblivion, there are more than enough sublime moments, unexpected turns and sheer inky wretchedness to warrant putting this on the shelf next to other great newspaper novels.

About the author

Tom Rachman, authorTom Rachman was born in 1974 in London, but grew up in Vancouver. He studied cinema at the University of Toronto and completed a Master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York. From 1998, he worked as an editor at the foreign desk of The Associated Press in New York, then did a stint as a reporter in India and Sri Lanka, before returning to New York. In 2002, he was sent to Rome as an AP correspondent, with assignments taking him to Japan, South Korea, Turkey and Egypt. Beginning in 2006, he worked part-time as an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris to support himself while writing fiction. He now lives in Rome, where he is working on his second novel. —from the author’s website

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One Comment

  1.  Sorry to have missed the meeting on this one, and wondering how the discussion was, Berliners. I enjoyed most every individual story in itself but was disappointed that the stories never came together in an emotional arc. I began to suspect this would be the case as I got closer to the end, but misleading cover blurbs (yes, you, Christopher Buckley) had led me to expect otherwise.

    I think the author is hugely talented and obviously has great insight into what we humans want and what we will do to each other. But he didn’t have the emotional courage this time out to stay with any of his wounded characters and see them through to the other side, or anywhere really.

    I loved the story of the newspaper’s ups and downs and the nitty-gritty detail and the comic pity of many of the characters (oh, the copy desk!). But that wasn’t enough; a novel is about characters, not institutions. In a weird way, I think of certain things withheld, as in the numinous “Lost in Translation” by Sofia Coppola. Not that Rachman’s book is any way like that work except that both show incredible insight and talent yet both show the creators holding back.

    Of course, I have seen Coppola’s film a bunch of times and will see it a bunch more. It gives off a glow. Of course, I’m being unfair to Rachman, a different species, but I doubt I will see a need to re-read his spunky but limited book.

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