Tuesday, December 11, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Two years ago, my sister recommended The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman to me. She hadn’t read it yet, but she was buying it on a recommendation from someone she knew. I was visiting her at the time, we were shopping, I was in a book buying mood, and so, the book was purchased. It has been sitting on my shelf ever since.

Well, thanks to the Mount TBR challenge hosted by My Readers Block, and the fact that it is now December and I still had two books to go to meet my goal, I plucked the book from the shelf.

The Imperfectionists is a collection of short stories that make up a novel. Together they cover the fifty year life span of an international English language newspaper published in Rome. The majority of the employees are American expatriates and each chapter/short story centers on a slice of life of one of these employees.

The newspaper was founded by a millionaire entrepreneur who made a gift of its editorship and management to a husband and wife journalist/editor team. No one quite understands why. He abandoned his wife and son in Atlanta and moved to Rome to oversee the paper, so its thought to be quite mysterious. But it’s pretty clear to the reader why he did it.

Born in the fifties, the paper went through a heydey, an expansion, and an eventual, inevitable decline.

The characters introduced in the stories are primarily those there in the paper’s later years, although we do see some flashbacks into the history of the paper as well. The writing is crisp and the people sharply defined. Through them, we get a view of the inner workings of the newspaper and of the "family" of employees as they see themselves and each other. Rachman does a good job of drawing individuals with believable problems and true-to-life relationships.

However, the book is rather a downer. Not only is the slow death of print journalism painful to read about, but the majority of the characters are fairly miserable. They are lonely, dissatisfied, disgruntled, and/or insecure. I understand this is what makes for good literature. Happy characters are only allowed to show up in romance. But somehow, when each chapter is a profile of a different sadsack, I start to think- ugh. Is this really supposed to be a realistic picture of modern life? Do people actually despise their friends/coworkers, cheat on their spouses, and hate their jobs with such a sickening passion? The most upbeat part of the book was the conclusion. The paper died. Life went on. I wanted to imagine life got better for each of the characters when they were no longer tied to a sinking ship. But maybe it was the people dragging down the paper rather than the other way around.

That last paragraph sound much more negative than it should, because I read this book in two sittings, quite captivated. It really is a very good book. Sure, it made me sad and a little bit irritated, but there was no way that I was going to put the book down without finishing it.


  1. I really, really liked this book. Funny, but I read little romance and quite a few pieces of so-called literary fiction, and it never occurred to me that the book would be read as a downer with "sad-sack" characters. Maybe I've just become inured. Although I think/thought that the death of substantive journalism and the rise of the soundbyte were a depressing metaphor for our time in general.

  2. This was the first book I downloaded to my Nook - I'll read it one day.

  3. This was the first book I downloaded to my Nook - I'll read it one day.