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January 25, 2016

The Imperfectionists

The ImperfectionistsThe Imperfectionists

By: Tom Rachman

Set in Rome, Tom Rachman’s debut novel follows the private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English language newspaper which was founded in the 1950’s by an eccentric American businessman and millionaire, Cyrus Ott. By 2004, the fate of the newspaper is uncertain and Cyrus’ grandson, Oliver, is in charge of the fates of the staff members whose stories make up the novel. But, Oliver is a “slacker” who only cares about his basset hound, Schopenhauer.

Each of the novel’s chapters is about a particular staffer from the editor in chief on down to a lowly copy editor. The stories interconnect, although each chapter could stand alone as a short story. The storylines are in turn funny, poignant, edgy, and, occasionally disturbing. Each character might be seen as a “loser” either because of what life hands them or because of self-imposed trouble due to unwise choices; but Rachman has a way of getting the reader to root for most of his losers.  The librarian in me was particularly sympathetic to Herman Cohen, the paper’s corrections editor, grammarian, and “style cop.”  He sends generally ignored memos about impermissible acronyms and misspellings like “Sadism Hussein” and the “Untied States,” and the incorrect use of “literally.”  Every story has a somewhat unexpected (and sometimes jolting) turn, described by one reviewer as in the manner of O. Henry.  It’s a bit like following a TV series with a large cast of quirky characters, and indeed, there are plans for a series by the BBC based on this book!

Tom Rachman second novel is The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (2014.)

Review By: Donna LeFeber