Summary and book reviews of The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists

A Novel

By Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2010,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2011,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Excerpt
The Imperfectionists

"Bush Slumps to New Low in Polls" 

Paris Correspondent-Lloyd Burko  

Lloyd shoves off the bedcovers and hurries to the front door in white underwear and black socks. He steadies himself on the knob and shuts his eyes. Chill air rushes under the door; he curls his toes. But the hallway is silent. Only high-heeled clicks from the floor above. A shutter squeaking on the other side of the courtyard. His own breath, whistling in his nostrils, whistling out.  

Faintly, a woman's voice drifts in. He clenches his eyelids tighter, as if to drive up the volume, but makes out only murmurs, a breakfast exchange between the woman and the man in the apartment across the hall. Until, abruptly, their door opens: her voice grows louder, the hallway floorboards creak-she is approaching. Lloyd hustles back, unlatches the window above the courtyard, and takes up a position there, gazing out over his corner of Paris.   She taps on his front door. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How did you feel when you encountered a protagonist from one chapter in a different key somewhere else?  Did these moments ever catch you by surprise?

  2. Why do you think Cyrus Ott started his newspaper?  Why do you think his family kept it going?  

  3. Do you think Hardy Benjamin made the right decision to ignore the theft she uncovered? And which is more important in a relationship: love or honesty?

  4. Is there a lesson to be learned in the story of Arthur Gopal's rise through the ranks?

  5. What do you think kept Ruby Zaga in her job all those years?  Is her persistence admirable?  

  6. At one point Herman Cohen muses: ""All this had been a ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

[The Imperfectionists] details a world where getting the "scoop" often triumphs over empathy for a subject's privacy, and where career ambitions determine the actions of many of the titular "imperfectionists" who struggle with pressures of work and home... Though it is tough to read about selfishness, this debut is noteworthy as a portrayal of everyday lives during decisive moments in a changing landscape. It successfully weaves between workplace drama and domestic tales to combine moments of free-spirited liveliness with a realistic sobriety about relationships that seldom survive the differences between those involved.   (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).

Full Review Members Only (959 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Arthur Phillips, author of Prague and The Song Is You
Elegiac and bitter, funny and shocking. A group portrait of fascinating characters with nothing in common but their dedication to a doomed idea. I loved it.

The Financial Times (UK)

Rachman is an admirable stylist. Each chapter is so finely wrought that it could stand alone as a memorable short story... a funny, poignant, occasionally breathtaking novel.

The Daily Mail (UK)

Loaded with charm and insight, the novel brings human tenderness to an inky business.

The Scotsman (UK)

Rachman's strength lies in his rendering of the characters – all 11 are believable, flawed and loveable. The narrative works and forms a coherent whole... funny and prescient, but still full of hope.

Kirkus Reviews

The interpolated chapters about the paper's past aren't very interesting; the final entry ends with a ghastly shock; and the postscript is too cute. Nevertheless, it's a very strong debut. Funny, humane and artful.

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…There are more than enough sublime moments [and] unexpected turns...

Library Journal

Starred Review. With its evocative Italian setting and its timely handling of an industry in flux, this polished, sophisticated debut can be relished in one sitting or read piecemeal as a satisfying series of vignettes linked by historical references to the Ott family empire.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

There are no wasted words in this book, every scene and detail move the characters and story forward. The Imperfectionists will make you laugh and cry. It's the rare novel that can shift emotional tone effortlessly. The newspaper at the heart of the story is mediocre. The Imperfectionists is magnificent.

New York Times - Christopher Buckley

This first novel by Tom Rachman, a London born journalist who has lived and worked all over the world, is so good I had to read it twice simply to figure out how he pulled it off.... The novel is alternatively 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.

New Yorker

This acute début portrays the world of neurotic journalists.... Rachman ... paints the characters’ small dramas and private disappointments with humanity and humor.

New York Newsday

Charming. ... The print newspaper may be an endangered species, but the newsroom - with its deadlines, quirky characters and investigative crusades - still makes for a good story.

Reader Reviews
Lit Lover

Why are Tragic Lives So Entertaining?
A perceptive writer, reporter does not necessarily make a great fictional novelist. Journalists are addicted to facts and horrific news as the book is evidence of that. Great. But do all readers have to be bashed with the worst part of life to ...   Read More

Bonnie Brody

A Private Look into the Life of Journalists
Set in Rome, this wonderful novel is about the lives of journalists who all work for the same newspaper. Each chapter can stand on its own in much the same way as Olive Kitteridge. Many of the journalists hate their jobs, may be misanthropes, ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

BookBrowse's Karen Rigby interviews Tom Rachman

BB: How has studying cinema informed your writing?

TR: At college, I majored in film studies, so movies certainly affected how I tell stories. One strength of cinema is its speed: a movie must grip you and tell a story fast; it ought to pull you completely into the onscreen world. Movies have limits, though, struggling to move beyond what can be seen and what can be heard. The written story allows you to venture more deeply inside characters - a novel explores those aspects of people that, in day-to-day life, we cannot easily see or hear. This is what I hoped to do in The Imperfectionists, to bare the thoughts of a range of people who weren't necessarily shrieking but who were ...

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