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The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists (original 2010; edition 2011)

by Tom Rachman

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2,425None2,552 (3.7)242
Title:The Imperfectionists
Authors:Tom Rachman
Info:Quercus Books (2011), Paperback, 355 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:read 2012

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The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (2010)

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Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Rome, Tom Rachman’s wry, vibrant debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English language newspaper as they struggle to keep it—and themselves—afloat.

Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff’s personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines. Kathleen, the imperious editor in chief, is smarting from a betrayal in her open marriage; Arthur, the lazy obituary writer, is transformed by a personal tragedy; Abby, the embattled financial officer, discovers that her job cuts and her love life are intertwined in a most unexpected way. Out in the field, a veteran Paris freelancer goes to desperate lengths for his next byline, while the new Cairo stringer is mercilessly manipulated by an outrageous war correspondent with an outsize ego. And in the shadows is the isolated young publisher who pays more attention to his prized basset hound, Schopenhauer, than to the fate of his family’s quirky newspaper.

As the era of print news gives way to the Internet age and this imperfect crew stumbles toward an uncertain future, the paper’s rich history is revealed, including the surprising truth about its founder’s intentions.

Spirited, moving, and highly original, The Imperfectionists will establish Tom Rachman as one of our most perceptive, assured literary talents.

My Review: I was very remiss with this book. It came out in 2010, and I read it that year. I've since gifted it to several others. Did I set down a review? No! Lazy lazy me. That doesn't mean that I don't encourage you to read it, because I do.

There is nothing of the novel about the book, though. Don't go in thinking you'll get Time's Arrow bedecked with cohesive details. You're getting interconnected short stories set in the same world. But say that to the marketing people at any publishing house, the buyers at every bookery, and even the Woman in the Street, and watch their eyes dim and their arms cross and their butts shift uncomfortably in the chair. Stories = Death in publishing. Less than a third the copies of a novel, be it hit, bestseller, or failure. So disheartening! So very annoying to me, too, since what is a chapter except a deeply woven short story set in a shared universe?

Anyway. Enough about that.

Why should all you storyphobes read this book?

“What I really fear is time. That's the devil: whipping us on when we'd rather loll, so the present sprints by, impossible to grasp, and all is suddenly past, a past that won't hold still, that slides into these inauthentic tales. My past- it doesn't feel real in the slightest. The person who inhabited it is not me. It's as if the present me is constantly dissolving. There's that line from Heraclitus: 'No man steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.' That's quite right. We enjoy this illusion of continuity, and we call it memory. Which explains, perhaps, why our worst fear isn't the end of life but the end of memories.”
That's one of many passages that made me pause, reach for the Book Darts, and mull. Memories are us, we are our memories, life is a brief flash before the eyes and then a deposit on the stockpile of memories. Yes. Well. What makes that okay, for me, is the existence of literature and the presence in my environment of books. So Rachman puts it to me, in this passage, that my stockpile of memories is susceptible to loss and reminds me that it's something to fear...except:

“You can’t dread what you can’t experience. The only death we experience is that of other people. That’s as bad as it gets. And that’s bad enough, surely.”
Aha. Yes. As bad as it gets is losing the memories to come! Agreed, and in a very odd way, it soothed a bit of my ill temper at the inevitability of death. (I'm still ticked at the prevalence of loss, which is in fact a thing to dread.)

That is the bargain one makes in forming relationships, though. Loss is a part of it, whether to death or separation. We're always in a process of loss after a certain age, or a process of *consciousness* of loss to be precise. It's the defining characteristic of being in relationship. Or A defining characteristic, as Rachman points out:

“I have to wonder if you're not being slightly naive here. I mean, are you saying that you want nothing from people? You have no motives? Everybody has motives. Name the person, the circumstances, I'll name the motive. Even saints have motives -- to feel like saints, probably. ... But still, the point of any relationship is obtaining something from another person.”
For good or for ill, that is the basic motivation, the essential need, the driving desire of them all, be they romantic, sexual, casual, intense, fleeting, or enduring. We want something, unless we're Bodhisattvas. That makes the whole of human existence sound so tawdry, doesn't it?

But nothing in all of the Universe is unmixed. Not even the pure chemical elements are unmixed. After all they each and every one began their existence as hydrogen, the simplest thing in all of creation, and were forced, compressed, annealed into their current pure states by the explosion and death of a star. From that death, that ultimate transformation of a bright and shining object into a myriad of other, unshining things, all of existence as we know it flows. Our own lives show us that endings are beginnings and all beginnings are neutral. It's what one does next, what flash of the present one accepts into the stockpile of memories, that determines which endings are "good" and which "bad." Rachman says this more succinctly, I think, when he writes, “Anything that's worth anything is complicated.”

Mmm hmmm.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. ( )
  richardderus | Apr 2, 2014 |
really entertaining fun novel. love all the different perspectives, it gives the whole picture of the rise and fall of a small newspaper. can't wait for the movie! ( )
  lloyd1175 | Mar 22, 2014 |
I really enjoyed this book. The separate chapters devoted to individual characters at an english language paper in Rome were well done. All tied together with some characters showing up tangentially in others' focus chapters. Many interesting folks inhabit this world. It brought to mind those multi-character, multi-arc television series. Smart, personable (and not so personable) people you might meet in real life. Recommended ( )
  jldarden | Mar 17, 2014 |
I didn't love is book as much as the critics seemed to. It was rather depressing and didn't really seem to have any sort of useful point. The writing was good, however, and the author did an ok job of telling a story in an interesting way. He used the lives of the employees of an international newspaper to tell the story of the paper itself. People seemed to really be taken by this book - I found it wasn't really "my cup of tea". ( )
  debbie.menzel | Feb 6, 2014 |
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! A very entertaining, easy read from Tom Rachman. This his debut novel about the newspaper business set in Rome gives us glimpses into the lIves of the reporters and staff of the paper.

Each chapter tells the story of a different character while spanning the decades from the 1950's through the turn of the century. Sometimes quirky, sometimes poignant, you will definitely get the vibe that these are "real" people.

I appreciate a book where I gain knowledge on a different subject. This time it was an insightful back-door view of the newspaper industry, its struggles, evolvement, and challenges with the dawn of the Internet.

I truly wish wish this book was twice as long because it left me wanting more and I guess that's a good thing. As I mentioned, this is the author's debut novel and I cannot wait to read what comes next from him. ( )
  missjomarch | Jan 3, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
The novel is alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching, and it's assembled like a Rubik's Cube. I almost feel sorry for Rachman, because a debut of this order sets the bar so high.
Enjoy "The Imperfectionists" for the gem that it is.
"The Imperfectionists" is about what happens when professionals realize that their craft no longer has meaning in the world's eyes (think of all those hardworking monk-scribes idled by Gutenberg) and that the only people who really understand them are on the same foundering ship, and that, come to think of it, they really loved that damn ship for all it made their lives hell.
He's both testing and tender towards his people - their loneliness and purposelessness, moments of cleaving awareness ("one day, his son will die"), capabilities for love and commitment, devotion to kids, awareness of the fading future of a faded friend. It's convincing and compassionate; amusing and affectionate. In fact, it's a bit of a jewel.
Anyone who has ever spent time in newspaperland will recognise The Imperfectionists' high degree of authenticity. So – you hope – will quite a few people beyond it. The citadel may be crumbling, but the righteousness of the defenders, miraculously, endures.
added by lkernagh | editThe Guardian, DJ Taylor (Apr 10, 2010)

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tom Rachmanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bachman, Barbara M.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
de Vicq de Cumptich, RobertoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Lloyd shoves off the bedcovers and hurries to the front door in white underwear and black socks.
If history taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power.
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Book description
Employees of an old-style English language newspaper based in Rome struggle with personal tragedies, dilemmas, and blunders while eyeing the rising tide of technology.
Haiku summary
Declining news biz/intertwined sad, fun stories/journalists' lives suck (ReadWriteLib)

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Preoccupied by personal challenges while running a struggling newspaper in Rome, an obituary writer confronts mortality, an eccentric publisher obsesses over his dog, and other staff members uncover the paper's founding by an impulsive millionaire.

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