“The Imperfectionists” – Pretty Close to Perfect

January 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Image: RandomHouse.com

If you missed Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists when it was originally published in 2010, you’re in luck.  It’s just been released in paperback.  Well-received when it debuted, the novel made several best-of-the-year lists.  There’s good reason for this.

Recently, I caught Mr. Rachman on the first night of his North American book tour.  Held at Brooklyn’s Book Court, a more accessible and intimate space than I’m used to when attending readings in Manhattan, the author read from his novel and participated in thoughtful Q&A session.  Intelligent and forthcoming, he charmed the audience with his self-deprecating wit.  Humble but confident, humorous but at the same time quite serious, I found him to be somewhat like the novel itself.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it is composed of a series of short stories centered around an American-owned, English-language newspaper based in Rome.  Each story is told from the point-of-view of a different newspaper staffer (with the exception of one story which is told in the voice of an avid newspaper reader – according to the author, the only one based on true-life events and, not surprisingly, the most outrageous).  But you don’t have to be a news lover or have an interest in the art of reportage to appreciate the the stories and how Mr. Rachman has chosen to tell them.  During the Q&A, we learned that the individual stories came first (more were written than were included in the final version) and the unifying theme later.   And while it tackles the decline of the newspapers and the printed word, much of the focus is on the messy, complicated lives of the staff away from the paper.  Only when you reach the end, do you experience the full impact of the individual narratives and, not incidentally, do you appreciate the brilliance of the novel’s structure.

So, make the trip to your local bookstore or click your mouse, set aside the weekend, and be prepared to be transported to another time and place (and, yes, to laugh and cry).  Mr. Rachman’s grasp of human nature, and his ability to translate that into the written word, make this one not to miss.

Read well.

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