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The Imperfectionists: A Novel [Hardcover]

Tom Rachman
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 6 2010
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.

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Printing presses whirr, ashtrays smolder, and the endearing complexity of humanity plays out in Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists. Set against the backdrop of a fictional English-language newspaper based in Rome, it begins as a celebration of the beloved and endangered role of newspapers and the original 24/7 news cycle. Yet Rachman pushes beyond nostalgia by crafting an apologue that better resembles a modern-day Dubliners than a Mad Men exploration of the halcyon past. The chaos of the newsroom becomes a stage for characters unified by a common thread of circumstance, with each chapter presenting an affecting look into the life of a different player. From the comically overmatched greenhorn to the forsaken foreign correspondent, we suffer through the painful heartbreaks of unexpected tragedy and struggle to stifle our laughter in the face of well-intentioned blunders. This cacophony of emotion blends into a single voice, as the depiction of a paper deemed a "daily report on the idiocy and the brilliance of the species" becomes more about the disillusion in everyday life than the dissolution of an industry. --Dave Callanan


“Marvelous … A rich, thrilling book that is both a love letter to and epitaph for the newspaper world…Mr. Rachman’s transition from journalism to fiction writing is nothing short of spectacular. 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, The 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."
—Christopher Buckley, The New York Times Book Review (Front-Page Review)

"[An] acute debut…[Rachman] paints the characters’ small dramas and private disappointments with humanity and humor."
The New Yorker

“[A] beguiling first novel…One by one these journalists are trotted through their tragicomic hamster wheels…Rachman [is] always finding new ways to surprise us.”
Washington Post

“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.”
—New York Newsday
“Laced with humor, irony and compassion. . . . some of the chapters are absolute gems.”
—Dallas Morning News
The Imperfectionists will make you laugh and cry. It's the rare novel that can shift emotional tone effortlessly . . . Magnificent.”
Seattle Post Intelligencer
“Rachman has created a series of vividly memorable characters.”
The Boston Globe

“Rachman is an admirable stylist. Each chapter is so finely wrought that it could stand alone as a memorable short story. Slowly, the separate strands become entwined and the line characters have drawn between their work and home lives is erased…. funny, poignant, occasionally breathtaking.”
Financial Times
“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, 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, starred review
“A very strong debut. Funny, humane and artful”
Kirkus Reviews

"[A] polished, sophisticated debut"
Library Journal 

 "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."
—Arthur Phillips, author of Prague and The Song Is You

"Tom Rachman is absolutely a writer to watch, with the ingenious knack of getting under the skin of his characters.  The Imperfectionists offers a witty, poignant glimpse into the universe of expatriates living in Rome, and the dreams, stress, and melodrama of a small newspaper. Rachman is clearly at home in these worlds, and his portrait is alternately hilarious, sad, intensely human, and always spot-on in its accuracy."
—Andrea Lee, author of Lost Hearts in Italy

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Imperfectionists April 3 2011
Although the book's story lines have an atmosphere of nearly despair, the reader can find him/herself immersed in the lives of the people involved directly and indirectly with a failing newspaper. It is a fine study of "faulty" characters.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! July 4 2010
To a casual reader, this surprisingly successful debut may come across as a series of well written stories about a set of broken characters working for a failing paper; but Rachman's brilliance shines through this complex work in a number of impressive ways, not the least of which is his ability to make you sympathize - even emphathize with people who you might normally prefer to avoid. As other reviewers have noted, this talent is difficult to figure, especially on such a scale (this seems to happen repeatedly throughout the book) but it is a stroke of brilliance. Both through the structure of the book, and through the excellent writing, one comes to understand that although each of the characters is broken in some way, they are all human. I can think of few who have accomplished such a task so seamlessly and so well. It is the ideal combination of subtlety and force. I sincerely hope that it is the first of many.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really terrific read! May 7 2010
By Rachel
After reading Christopher Buckley's glowing review in the NY Times on Sunday morning I found myself buying this book that afternoon. I just finished it last night and wished that it hadn't ended! I found myself laughing or gasping out loud often over the interesting characters, their quirks and just how the author describes life to a tee ("...anything worth anything is complicated...").

From another readers' review: "From my reading, I'm guessing that Tom Rachman is not only a wonderful writer, but a wonderful guy." I have to agree. After reading this, you will wish this guy was your friend.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't understand the praise for this novel July 6 2011
By Mark
I bought this book because it received great reviews and because, as a former journalist, I thought I would find it especially interesting. I was disappointed. I abandoned "The Imperfectionists" about half-way through. This is another one of those novels, like "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen, that leaves me puzzled about the state of contemporary literary fiction. "Freedom", too, received rave reviews and was, to me, disappointing in the same way that "The Imperfectionists" is disappointing. The writing was facile, the characters uninteresting and the plot non-existent. The whole thing had an air of trying very hard to sound clever.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... May 30 2011
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
Ironically, "The Imperfectionists" is the perfect title for Tom Rachman's brilliant, astute and original debut novel. Set in Rome, the book describes an English-language newspaper's demise; each chapter (all of which read like short stories) focuses on one individual who is somehow affiliated with the paper. There's the desperate Paris-based freelancer willing to jeopardize his son's career for a byline, the lazy obituary writer whose life is transformed by tragedy, the imperious editor-in-chief whose open marriage is on the fritz and the most hilarious rookie Cairo correspondent who is ruthlessly manipulated by a competitor. Though "imperfect" to a fault, Rachman's characters come across as authentic and endearing. Yes, they gripe and annoy each other but their stories are so real, so poignant and so strongly imagined that together they form one winner of a novel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Impetfectionists Jan. 3 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
I read this book twice and liked it better the second time. The characters were interesting and the inter personal relationships very clever. It was a great story. I was fascinated how some characters very directly affected the lives of others they didn't know very well.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Debut Novel Feb. 15 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is so well written you will find yourself re-reading sentences and paragraphs for the sheer delight. You not only read about the characters: you walk among them and easily become them. Each voice is so distinct that you have the feeling you know these people and will miss them once the book is finished. Humor and heartbreak intermingle with all it means to be human.

It satisfies on many so levels. Each chapter is so complete and well crafted like an award winning short story.
My only worry is how Tom Rachman an ever reach these heights again.
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