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Imperfectionists (Rachman)

The Imperfectionists
Tom Rachman, 2010
Random House
272 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385343664

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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1974
Where—London, England, UK
Raised—Vancouver, Canada
Education—B.A., University of Toronto; M.A., Columbia
  University
Currently—lives in Rome


Tom Rachman was born in London and raised in Vancouver. A graduate of the University of Toronto and the Columbia School of Journalism, he has been a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, stationed in Rome. From 2006 to 2008, he worked as an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris. He lives in Rome. (From the publisher and Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
Mr. Rachman, a former journalist, knows and loves the myopia of his old profession, the gallows humor of its practitioners and the precariousness of the business to which they devote their lives. Armed with this knowledge and somehow free of the fashionable diffidence that too often plagues fiction about the workplace, he has written a rich, thrilling book that is both love letter to and epitaph for the newspaper world.... The Imperfectionists is a splendid original, filled with wit and structured so ingeniously that figuring out where the author is headed is half the reader's fun. The other half comes from his sparkling descriptions not only of newspaper office denizens but of the tricks of their trade, presented in language that is smartly satirical yet brimming with affection.
Janet Maslin - New York Times


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. I still haven't answered that question, nor do I know how someone so young...could have acquired such a precocious grasp of human foibles. 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.
Christopher Buckley - New York Times Book Review


The Imperfectionists is about what happens when professionals realize that their craft no longer has meaning in the world's eyes…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.... Rachman is a fine observer and a funny writer—and a writer who knows how to be funny in character.
Louis Bayard - Washington Post


(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
Publishers Weekly


At the Caffe Greco in Rome, circa 1953, Atlanta financier Cyrus Ott makes an offer that can't be refused. He will establish an international English-language newspaper to be run in Italy by Betty, the woman he once loved, and her husband, Leo, a hack writer for a Chicago daily. Within the building's walls an entire history of the print news business plays out over a 50-year span as writers, editors, and accountants grow in professional stature, squander their reputations, and fade into obsolescence. A former editor for the Paris branch of the International Herald Tribune, Rachman makes outstanding use of his credentials to place readers in the center of a newsroom so palpable one can hear the typewriters clacking and feel the uncomfortable undercurrent of professional jealousy among the writers jockeying for position. Navigating the minefields of relationships, parenthood, loneliness, and failure, each realistically imperfect character, developed through intimate, candid detail, becomes a story unto himself (or herself). Verdict: 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. Buy it, read it, talk it up. —Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL
Library Journal


An English-language newspaper headquartered in Rome brings together a strongly imagined cast of characters in journalist Rachman's first novel. Lloyd Burko used to be a stringer living in Paris. He's still in Paris, but now he's just an impoverished former journalist who pretends to have a computer and whose latest wife has moved in with the guy across the hall. Arthur Gopal is languishing as an obituary writer until a death in his own life enables his advancement by erasing his humanity. Hardy Benjamin is a business writer, savvy and knowledgeable about corporate finance but utterly hapless in romance. What they have in common is the never-named paper, whose history is doled out in brief chapters beginning in 1953. The novel's rich representation of expatriate existence surely benefits from the author's experiences as an AP correspondent in Rome and an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris; his thoroughly unglamorous depictions of newsroom cubicles and editorial offices will resonate with anyone who's had a corporate job. But, while the newspaper is its unifying factor, the narrative's heart beats with the people who work there. Rachman's ability to create a diverse group of fully formed individuals is remarkable. Characters range from a kid just out of college who learns the hard way that he doesn't want to be a reporter, to an Italian diplomat's widow. Some are instantly sympathetic, others hard to like. Each is vivid and compelling in his or her own way. The individual stories work well independently, even better as the author skillfully weaves them together. Cameo appearances become significant when informed by everything the reader already knows about a character who flits in and out of another's story. The novel isn't perfect. 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.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Imperfectionists

1. The book is a series of vignettes about 11 people in the newsroom of an unnamed paper. Yet The Imperfectionists is more than collection of short stories. How are the chapters connected? How does the book manage to cohere as a novel? Or does it? Perhaps you found it difficult to jump from one character to another—did you?

2. We find out at the end of the book why Cyrus Ott began the newspaper in 1953. Did you have suspicions all along...or were you caught by surprise?

3. Talk about how the headline for each chapter ties in with the fate of the character involved—particularly, say, the seemingly unrelated headline for Lloyd Burko: "Bush Slumps to New Low in the Polls."

4. Who are your favorite characters, the ones with whom you most sympathize—Kathleen Solson or Herman Cohen, perhaps? Who is the saddest—perhaps Ruby Zaga? What about your least favorite? Overall, does Rachman do a good job of fleshing out his characters—creating them as fully developed human beings? Do you come to care about any of them...some more than others?

5. What happens to Arthur Gopal at the end of the story? Why does he suddenly begin to perform beyond expectations? Why does he abandon his wife?

6. Why does Hardy never confront her boyfriend? Why does she let him get away with the theft of her belongings? What accounts for her attraction to him...in fact, is she in love with him?

7. Is Dave Bellig's behavior justifiable...or not? Was it fair that he was let go...which makes the CFO fair game?

8. Then there's Winston Cheung. Does he learn a valuable life lesson...or is he simply duped by a talented con-man? Do you find the story humorous...or irritating?

9. What is the significance of the title?

10. The fictional newspaper in this work serves as a metaphor for the press in general. Talk about the fate of newspapers— their future survival. What do you think will happen to them and why? What will be the impact of their possible demise? How important is a well-trained, professional press corp to democracy? Is the egalitarianism of news reporting on the Internet a good thing...or not?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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