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The Imperfectionists: A Novel Hardcover – April 6, 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 634 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2010 Printing presses whirr, ashtrays smolder, and the endearing complexity of humanity plays out in Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists. Set against the backdrop of a fictional English-language newspaper based in Rome, it begins as a celebration of the beloved and endangered role of newspapers and the original 24/7 news cycle. Yet Rachman pushes beyond nostalgia by crafting an apologue that better resembles a modern-day Dubliners than a Mad Men exploration of the halcyon past. The chaos of the newsroom becomes a stage for characters unified by a common thread of circumstance, with each chapter presenting an affecting look into the life of a different player. From the comically overmatched greenhorn to the forsaken foreign correspondent, we suffer through the painful heartbreaks of unexpected tragedy and struggle to stifle our laughter in the face of well-intentioned blunders. This cacophony of emotion blends into a single voice, as the depiction of a paper deemed a "daily report on the idiocy and the brilliance of the species" becomes more about the disillusion in everyday life than the dissolution of an industry. --Dave Callanan

Tom Rachman on The Imperfectionists

I grew up in peaceful Vancouver with two psychologists for parents, a sister with whom I squabbled in the obligatory ways, and an adorably dim-witted spaniel whose leg waggled when I tickled his belly. Not the stuff of literature, it seemed to me.

During university, I had developed a passion for reading: essays by George Orwell, short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, novels by Tolstoy. By graduation, books had shoved aside all other contenders. A writer--perhaps I could become one of those.

There was a slight problem: my life to date.

By 22, I hadn't engaged in a bullfight. I'd not kept a mistress or been kept by one. I'd never been stabbed in a street brawl. I'd not been mistreated by my parents, or addicted to anything sordid. I'd never fought a duel to the death with anyone.

It was time to remedy this. Or parts of it, anyway. I would see the world, read, write, and pay my bills in the process. My plan was to join the press corps, to become a foreign correspondent, to emerge on the other side with handsome scars, mussed hair, and a novel.

Years passed. I worked as an editor at the Associated Press in New York, venturing briefly to South Asia to report on war (from a very safe distance; I was never brave). Next, I was dispatched to Rome, where I wrote about the Italian government, the Mafia, the Vatican, and other reliable sources of scandal.

Suddenly--too soon for my liking--I was turning thirty. My research, I realized, had become alarmingly similar to a career. To imagine a future in journalism, a trade that I had never loved, terrified me.

So, with a fluttery stomach, I handed in my resignation, exchanging a promising job for an improbable hope. I took my life savings and moved to Paris, where I knew not a soul and whose language I spoke only haltingly. Solitude was what I sought: a cozy apartment, a cup of tea, my laptop. I switched it on. One year later, I had a novel.

And it was terrible.

My plan – all those years in journalism--had been a blunder, it seemed. The writing I had aspired to do was beyond me. I lacked talent. And I was broke.

Dejected, I nursed myself with a little white wine, goat cheese and baguette, then took the subway to the International Herald Tribune on the outskirts of Paris to apply for a job. Weeks later, I was seated at the copy desk, composing headlines and photo captions, aching over my failure. I had bungled my twenties. I was abroad, lonely, stuck.

But after many dark months, I found myself imagining again. I strolled through Parisian streets, and characters strolled through my mind, sat themselves down, folded their arms before me, declaring, "So, do you have a story for me?"

I switched on my computer and tried once more.

This time, it was different. My previous attempt hadn't produced a book, but it had honed my technique. And I stopped fretting about whether I possessed the skill to become a writer, and focused instead on the hard work of writing. Before, I had winced at every flawed passage. Now, I toiled with my head down, rarely peeking at the words flowing across the screen.

I revised, I refined, I tweaked, I polished. Not until exhaustion--not until the novel that I had aspired to write was very nearly the one I had produced--did I allow myself to assess it.

To my amazement, a book emerged. I remain nearly incredulous that my plan, hatched over a decade ago, came together. At times, I walk to the bookshelf at my home in Italy, take down a copy of The Imperfectionists, double-check the name on the spine: Tom Rachman. Yes, I think that's me.

In the end, my travels included neither bullfights nor duels. And the book doesn't, either. Instead, it contains views over Paris, cocktails in Rome, street markets in Cairo; the ruckus of an old-style newsroom and the shuddering rise of technology; a foreign correspondent faking a news story, a media executive falling for the man she just fired. And did I mention a rather adorable if slobbery dog?

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In 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. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; 1st edition (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385343663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385343664
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (634 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #645,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Imperfectionists is flat-out one of the most enjoyable debut books I've read. This book has it all: writing that's so brilliant and astute that it's hard to believe this is Mr. Rachman's freshman effort, highly original and authentic characters, and a very timely theme: the demise of the printed newspaper.

The novel -- set in Rome -- is focused on the personal lives of various news reporters, executives, copy editors, and (in one case) a reader. Each chapter focuses on one individual and is a story all its own (think: Olive Kitteridge or In Other Rooms, Other Wonders); together, the whole is greater than the part of its sums and represents the trials, tribulations, and occasional rewards of those involved with an international English language newspaper.

All of these multi-faceted, interwoven stories sparkle in different ways. There is Lloyd, the down-on-his-luck Paris correspondent who is willing to play his own son for a byline. There's Arthur, the obituary writer and son of a famous journalist who sits on his laurels before his life is transformed by a heart-rendering tragedy. There's Abby -- aka Accounts Payable -- the financial officer who finds that one of her firings comes back to "bite" her in a most unexpected way. There's Herman, the overly hefty pussycat of a corrections editor with an 18,000-plus style guide he calls "The Bible"; woe is the unwitting writer who violates it! And Kathleen, the imperious and workaholic editor-in-chief who learns things about herself from a past lover that she would rather have not. And, in one of the most laugh-out-loud humorous of the stories, there's Winston, the naive Cairo stringer who is manipulated by his competitor Snyder, a middle-aged man with an over-the-top ego.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book solely because of the lavish, fawning reviews that blossomed in the literary media like dandelions after a spring rain. How was it possible for a work of debut fiction to roll out with that much acclaim? It had to be a spectacular achievement. I had to have it.

I loved it early on. Toward the end I could barely stand it. I had to force myself to read the last 20 or so pages. From somewhere in the middle I began to hate it. How could I be so far off the professional critics? Were we reading the same book? I don't know how I could possibly recommend it.

Here are a few reasons.

For one, the simplest rule of literature to me is that I have to care about the outcome of the principal characters. That simply wasn't possible here. With each chapter, as I started to develop an affection for a character (or a strong dislike), the author did something to trip it up. If a person was sympathetic, he was bullied or humiliated in the end. In fact I began to wonder at the consistent meanness of the author toward his characters. It was like a child tearing the wings off butterflies. No one was spared. After a few chapters it began to be cruelly tedious, wondering what nasty thing was going to befall the protagonist of the next chapter. What started out funny became ugly after awhile.

While there was cleverness galore, some of the dialogues simply went on and on long after they should have shut up. Where was his editor? Did they need it to satisfy a contractual page count?

There was something else that bothered me. This was about ex-pats living and working in Rome. Aside from the occasional mention of a Roman street name, there was no sense of place whatsoever. It might as well have been in Baltimore, say, or Cleveland.
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9 Comments 157 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Imperfetionist" by Tom Rachman is about an English newspaper in Rome and the people who keep it going. Each chapter focuses an a different person, usually an employee. Flashbacks tell how Mr. Ott started the press as a new business, how it developed thru the years, and how Ott's family took it over after his death.

I am really impressed with Mr. Rachman's writing. It has the feel of classic literature, but with a modern edge. His humor shines through in laugh-out-loud sections, but the more serious parts were also sincere.

In my opinion, the last half of the book was much better than the first half. I enjoyed the way the chapters read almost like short stories connected by the thread of the newspaper, and most of the characters were interesting and well-rounded. I just would have liked for the first section to have grabbed me the way the rest did.

I do look forward to reading more of Mr. Rachman's work in the future.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There's the newspaper reader who compulsively reads every word of every Ott paper, but so slowly that she is more than a decade behind and "[s]he has been dreading tomorrow ever since it happened the first time." She is about to reach the April 24, 1994 edition. The world outside her home has churned on, of course, but she is in a self-imposed time warp and knows nothing of history beyond April 23, 1994.

There's the family man who adores spending time with his young daughter. He write obituaries for the paper, and one day he's asked by the editor-in-chief to take the train to Geneva, Switzerland and interview one Gerda Erzberger, an Austrian intellectual. She artlessly asks him, " 'Claw your way to the bottom, did you?' " He doesn't mind her dig because he doesn't aspire to anything other than what he currently has. But while he is in Gerda's house, everything changes....
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