The Imperfectionists: A Novel

by Tom Rachman

Hardcover, 2010

Collection

Genres

Publication

The Dial Press (2010), Edition: 1st, 288 pages

Description

An "imperfect" crew of reporters and editors working for an international English language newspaper stumble toward an uncertain future as the era of print news gives way to the Internet age. The story is set against the gorgeous backdrop of Rome.

Media reviews

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.
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Enjoy "The Imperfectionists" for the gem that it is.
"The Imperfectionists" is about what happens when professionals realize that their craft no longer has meaning in the world's eyes (think of all those hardworking monk-scribes idled by Gutenberg) 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.
He's both testing and tender towards his people - their loneliness and purposelessness, moments of cleaving awareness ("one day, his son will die"), capabilities for love and commitment, devotion to kids, awareness of the fading future of a faded friend. It's convincing and compassionate; amusing and affectionate. In fact, it's a bit of a jewel.
Anyone who has ever spent time in newspaperland will recognise The Imperfectionists' high degree of authenticity. So – you hope – will quite a few people beyond it. The citadel may be crumbling, but the righteousness of the defenders, miraculously, endures.
Time and again Rachman homes in on the human drama of the invisible people who make the institution tick, deftly capturing the petty rivalries and small kindnesses that give any workplace its human dimension.
this book is filled with gorgeous writing, jolts of insight and narrative surprises that feel both unexpected and inevitable. One finishes reading The Imperfectionists with the sense that Rachman not only knows his way around a newsroom, but is also well acquainted with storytelling masters such as Anton Chekhov and William Trevor.

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
The genre of the minute seems to be a collection of interconnected short stories that share either a theme (American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell), or a character (Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout) and although Tom Rachman’s new book is described as a novel by the publisher, for this reader, it met all the requirements of a short story collection. At any rate, what Rachman has produced is a cynical, raucous, wry, humor-filled book based on the slow-dying newspaper business and those who are employed in it.

In 1953, Cyrus Ott, a wealthy American businessman decides to start an international English-language newspaper, based in Rome and sold around the world. Each chapter, or story, in the book is entitled by a headline and told from the point of view of a newspaper employee, for the most part. At the end of each chapter/story, there are a few pages documenting the history of the newspaper over the years. If a format like this has been used in the past, I’m not aware of it. It is very, very clever. It helps that Rachman has a way with words and can turn a phrase with the best of them. He’s nothing short of terrific in his debut offering.

Choosing a couple favorites is not easy since each story is so well done but here are two that stood out:

In “The Sex Lives of Islamic Extremists,” Winston Cheung is trying out for the job of Cairo stringer, but since he’s not really a reporter he hasn’t a clue how to get a story from people whose language he doesn’t speak, and whose culture he doesn’t understand. Unexpectedly, another reporter, Rich Snyder, also trying out for the position, shows up and proceeds to systemically take over Winston’s apartment, his life and his prospects for the job. Rachman characterizes this overbearing moron with such skill that it makes it easy for the reader to compare him to real life characters that make up the part and parcel of everyday life. And Cheung makes himself an easy target for Snyder’s manipulation:

“By early evening, he is still at the computer, rising only to gorge himself on Winston’s food and spread his possessions across the floor. Various items of Snyder’s—a hairbrush, Kevlar messenger bag, sports socks, deodorant spray—appear on the carpet around him in a widening radius. The baboon marking his territory.” (Page 137)

In “Markets Crash Over Fears of China Slowdown,” Chief Financial Officer, Abbey Pagnola has the task of trying to right the financial ship of the newspaper by reducing the size of the staff. Unexpectedly, the latest employee to be let go is sitting right next to her on a trans-Atlantic flight. She doesn’t recognize him at first, but when she does, she is totally mortified:

“Her brain clicks: it’s Dave Belling.
She wants to die. This is copydesk Dave. Newly fired Dave. Dave, who was laid off to cut costs. Dave, whom she ordered fired. Eleven hours beside him. Worse still, she has been caught in travel mode, in sweatpants, hair in pigtails. (At the paper, she’s all suits and boots, eyes cold as coins.)”

The author develops the story from there but in no way prepares the reader for the shocking ending.

Laugh out loud funny; three dimensional characters, all flawed, all imperfect; and cynicism from beginning to end, Rachman boldly asks the question, “Who can you trust?” In so doing, he’s written a gem of a story and made an auspicious debut. Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member BlackSheepDances
WKRP in Cincinnati. It was a sitcom in the early 80s, I think? Without disparaging this work of literary fiction, I was somewhat reminded of that goofy little show. It was set in a radio station, but made memorable by the collective weirdness of every character in the ensemble cast. Each episode seemed to focus on one person's problem, usually humorous, and filled out with the other characters who rotated in significance per the episode.

In The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, there is a similar layout to the novel. Instead of a radio station, it's a daily newspaper in Rome, with mostly expats running the show. Often funny, sometimes bleak, the book moves along and introduces you to each character separately then shows them as part of the whole. No sight gags or corny humor like in WKRP, but a feeling of tolerable camaraderie between people thrown together and not especially liking it.

Richman doesn't use any cliches: there's no "Devil Wears Prada" evil boss, and even the most insignificant of copy editors has a life outside the newsroom that is a story in itself. That's why the novel is so fascinating. Without one single main protagonist, much more is in play that makes the story move. There's the obnoxious Snyder, who constantly travels to different war zones seeking a story, but remains oblivious to human tragedy. He decides that knowing different languages interferes with his objectivity, so all sources must speak English. Business editor Hardy, an intelligent female reporter who is so desperate for a companion that she finds a relationship with the loser Rory who robbed her apartment. Lloyd, who has no relationship with any of his children, and really nothing in his life of value, resorts to falsifying stories just to make a little money. And Dave, who enacts the perfect revenge on the accountant who fired him. Then there's the spell-check program that renames an important historical character "Sadism Hussein."

Finally, there's the love letter Ott wrote, never seen by his beloved: "I built and I built-heaven knows that I have done that well. Those skyscrapers, full of tenants, floor after floor, and not a single room containing you."

In all, Rachman creates these characters amid the underlying theme of a newspaper trying to make money in the age of the Internet. He contrasts the tactile importance a newspaper used to have with the overload of information online that can't even be grasped. Instead of lecturing about this relevant information, he shows how the newspaper changes in content over three generations of owners-the Ott family. This is a fun read, full of laughs but tender and meaningful too.
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LibraryThing member NarratorLady
This is the story of the workers at an international English language newspaper based in Rome that is in its death throes, which makes this an extemely timely piece of literature since it looks like newsprint is about to become extinct. Here is the epitaph, beautifully expressed as is this entire wonderful, riveting book:

"Instant updates on the Internet bred contempt for day-old headlines in ink. Even the habit of exchanging money for information dwindled - online, payment was merely an option. But, doggedly, the pay-per-view papers kept at it. They made their daily judgments, produced their digests of the world, laid them out across pages, printed tonight and delivered tomorrow, to be flapped open before bleary breakfast eyes. Fewer eyes, each day."

Now, an entire novel about the death of a newspaper would be pretty tough (and sad) to read. Instead this is a series of character studies of the people who produce the daily paper: reporters, writers, the CFO and editors - plus one avid subscriber who insists on slowly reading every word and is fifteen years behind in her reading. Rachman's writing is perfectly concise in revealing each character's personal and professional lives, foibles, flaws and history. Characters are present in each others' stories, often only peripherally, and in the backround, the anxiety of losing a job is ever present.

Rachman cleverly uses headlines for each chapter to give hints about what's coming. "Bush Slumps to New Low in Polls" is the story of a foreign correspondent whose glory days are behind him and who resorts to exploiting his estranged son for a story. "Europeans are Lazy, Study Says" relates how an otherwise savvy business writer loses all objectivity when it comes to her slacker lover. The chance meeting on a plane back to the States between the CFO and the man she is responsible for firing ("Markets Crash over Fears of China Slowdown") provides a startling surprise.

Interspersed throughout, in italics, is the history of the paper, founded by Cyrus Ott in 1953. No one ever really knows why Ott, a captain of industry, decided to essentially abandon his wife and son in Atlanta to start a paper and live in Rome. In 1960, wracked by disease, he chooses to die there alone and his family loyally continues funding it long after his death until its final, sputtering days. Rachman is wise enough to let the reader ultimately discover the simplicity of the mystery of Ott's labor of love.

Rachman also provides, in the final chapter, a summing up of the character's lives after the paper's demise. This is a very kind thing to do. His people are so real, so full of contradictions and flaws, I was hungry for just a little more about them and their futures provided satisfaction and, often, hilarity.

Consider Winston Cheung who, not seeing how his study of primates in college can lead him down any professional path, makes tentative attempts to get a job with the paper as a stringer in Cairo. This results in abject humiliation. He returns home defeated but ends up working at an exotic animal refuge, a job he loves. And here Rachman does a poignant summing up of not only Winston's future, but the future of newspapers too:

"He disliked lining the monkey cages with newspaper - even the sight of headlines made him panicky these days. However, this was not to bother him for long: the local paper folded, and he switched to sawdust. Soon, even the monkeys forgot the comforts of newspaper."

Tom Rachman is thirty years old. This debut is so gorgeously written, I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
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LibraryThing member detailmuse
The Imperfectionists, Rachman's debut novel, is the story of an international English-language newspaper in Rome, told through alternating threads: a biography-like series of vignettes tracking the newspaper from its founding in 1953 to the economy of today’s print media; and a series of linked short stories involving the newspaper’s employees (and one reader).

The stories are terrific! Set within the workplace and outside in personal life, they involve lots of characters yet each is effectively unpacked -- background characters just enough to make them memorable, main characters enough to make the reader care; many are developed further as they appear again in later stories. They’re fast stories, with lots of dialogue and strong forward momentum -- Rachman isn’t afraid of tension. In one, I was so engaged in the hilarious interaction between a high-energy correspondent and a passive, fledgling wannabe that I thought I was going to have a stroke!

These stories are the most enjoyable fiction I’ve read this year. But because the book is labeled a novel, I expected them to create a larger, overall narrative arc, and, based on their content, some type of “wow!” finish. Instead, I found the ending to be desperately flat. Still, I recommend this book, and am beyond eager to read more by Rachman.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)
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LibraryThing member cameling
The personal lives of journalists, editors, the owners and an avid reader of an English language newspaper in Rome are examined in this novel. It starts with an elderly freelance correspondent who is left behind in the times. He doesn't own a computer and faxes his stories in, and in desperation, he uses a slim rumor passed on to him by his son to put together a news article, which eventually is not accepted for lack of credibility. This sets the tone for each personality covered in each chapter. We see their struggles, their rise and at times their fall, in the cut throat world of journalism as each daily edition of the paper is faithfully is put together and released. The story of the avid reader is one where a person is sometimes trapped in a world of her own making but who through an accident, manages to free herself.

Each chapter could almost stand alone as a short story. The detail paid to the examination of each character's personality, their past, their hopes and their fears brought them to life for me. I found myself being indignant, joyful or sorrowful on their behalf ... in short, I was captivated by their stories.
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LibraryThing member cushlareads
I couldn't put this book down, and loved both the structure and the subject matter - journalism, getting a newspaper out every day, and all the drama and bitchiness of the workplace. It's a fast read.

The book is a series of short stories about the people who work at an international newspaper based in Rome. The newspaper isn't doing too well, and none of the people are very likable, but they were engrossing. Each chapter has a newspaper headline, and I really liked how the headlines tied into the ending of the stories. Interspersed at the end of each story is the story of how the paper got started and what's happened over the last 40 years. The stories are linked, so by the end of the book you're reading about a cast of characters that you know.

I dinged this a star because the characters were almost all screwed up and cynical. Or dopy - like Hardy, the business reporter, who really really really annoyed me. The exception was Herman, the corrections editor, who had a happy family life and wrote such entries in the paper's style guide as this one on "literally":

literally: this word should be deleted. All too often, actions described as "literally" did not happen at all. As in, "He literally jumped out of his skin." No, he did not. [...] Inserting "literally"willy-nilly reinforces the notion that breathless nitwits lurk within this newsroom. Eliminate on sight - the usage, not the nitwits. The nitwits are to be captuerd and placed in the cages I have set up in the subbasement. See also: Excessive Dashes; Exclamation points; and Nitwits.

Recommended as long as you don't mind reading about losers.
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LibraryThing member alana_leigh
So... I'm telling you now that my sudden and vehement dislike of Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists is totally irrational and cannot be defended with any argument that paints me as a level-headed reviewer. Up until approximately five pages from the end of the novel, I would have given this a three-and-a-half-out-of-five star review (and even would have rounded up to four stars when pressed)... not necessarily because I enjoyed every single moment of the novel, but because I thought it was a well-written and interesting look at the fascinating and rather endangered industry of newspaper publication.

Then a dog was killed and I'm sorry, but I immediately experienced a flash-back to my six-year-old self, uncontrollably sobbing because a story I was reading started with the drowning of a kitten. It's a horrific, staggering moment and I started to worry that I might actually cry into my scarf, standing on the subway in rush hour, attracting covert glances from other winter-clad commuters, while some child in a stroller would stage whisper, "Mommy, why is that lady crying?" Thankfully, I held it together, but my ability to enjoy any part of the novel had vanished.

My significant other laughed at me when I said this, then realized I was serious, but I yield to you the same points I yielded to him. Yes, I understand that the author didn't actually kill a real-life dog. Yes, I understand that the killing of the dog is supposed to be a horrific and heart-breaking moment. No, the act of killing the dog was not itself described, but rather, simply the fact/means of it stated. But because it was in there at all, my opinion of the book plummeted and I just cannot recommend this to anyone in good conscience. You see what I mean? It doesn't matter for me that up until then, I was thinking overall positive things about the work. I know this is ludicrous and I know that I can read about people dying without batting an eyelash. Kids can die and I wince (like any normal person), but there's just a line a writer can't cross for each one of us and mine happens to be furry. I'm a terrible, unacceptably biased reviewer and I'm sorry.

The Imperfectionists, aside from being a novel where a dog is murdered, focuses on the employees of an English-language newspaper based out of Rome. The newspaper in the present day is clearly failing, but the employees trudge on, putting out the paper every day under increasing amounts of stress. Told in a series of snapshot stories that each focus on a different person, the stories weave through their lives to show private agonies and professional failures. There's very little happiness here (though perhaps a few small victories are recounted) as we read about the editors, publishers, and reporters that have had their lives changed by the paper. It covers the entire lifespan of the paper -- from its founding after World War II to its modern-day closure -- and while most of the characters live in the present time, there are short glimpses back at the lives of its previous employees.

While reading The Imperfectionists, I found myself recalling Joshua Ferris's And Then We Came to the End, another novel that follows several employees of a company that's going under. Even before the dog incident, I would say I far preferred And Then We Came to the End, but The Imperfectionists does have the benefit of being set in Rome. Having been in Rome a few months ago, I was pleased by the frequent mentions of specific places and neighborhoods, which allowed me to remember the twisting streets and odious traffic. I was surprised no mention was made of vespas. Given that this is a novel where it's clear things will Not End Well, it's to be expected that the tone will be relatively serious -- though there are many funny moments, even if they are often of the black humor or cringe-worthy variety. These are not happy people, by and large, and the turmoil in their lives both inside and outside of the office reflects this. A large number of tragic things happen in the course of the novel (tragic things are, after all, much more newsworthy than happy things), though they usually consist of what would be private gossip and never something printable (save for a few individual deaths). Children die, relationships are shattered, betrayals are engineered, and tempers are lost... the last item happening practically on every page. There's a pervading sense of loss... lost leads, stories, and profits... lost loves, friends, and children... lost innocence, lost opportunities, and lost dreams... and, of course, lost jobs.

Unless you're the wallowing type, I wouldn't recommend this for anyone who's recently lost a job. Nor would I really recommend this as a great "set in Italy" novel, though I did enjoy the conjuration of the city. And, it might go without saying, I wouldn't recommend this to those who are overly-sensitive to violence against animals. (It really just comes in out of the blue, folks. I'm not this crazy all the time.) If you have none of these problems, then I hope that you enjoy the novel, as it shows a certain amount of promise on the part of Tom Rachman. (After all, it's already been optioned by Brad Pitt and that certainly can't hurt one's career.) The Imperfectionists is a thoughtful novel with glints of wry humor to keep the reader afloat in this portrait of a declining industry... I just wish the loyal, harmless dog would have made it to a really nice farm where he could chase rabbits.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
I very much enjoyed this collection of linked vignettes. At turns heartbreaking and comic, these peaks into the lives of people associated with a failing newspaper depict the way in which we delude ourselves and others into believing everything is good and fine and normal in our lives. Just as the paper is barely surviving, so are many of these people about to drown under the weight of misconception, miscommunication and missed opportunity. Rachman is a fine writer, providing surprisingly full portraits of his characters despite the limits of the story format. And he is funny! The chapter about the Cairo stringer is a wonderfully exaggerated portrait of naiveté and egotism. Asked how he likes Cairo, the young wanna-be journalist replies:

”I have a couple of gripes, but they’re pretty minor.”

“Like?”

“Nothing serious.”

“Tell me one.”

“Well, the air is kind of hard to breathe, with all this pollution. Sort of like inhaling from an exhaust pipe. The heat makes me faint sometimes. And the food isn’t all that edible. Or maybe I’ve just been unlucky. Also, it’s a police state, which I don’t love. And I get the impression the locals want to shoot me. Only when I talk to them, though. Which is my fault – my Arabic is useless. But basically, yeah,” he summarizes, “it’s really interesting.”

This book won’t work for everyone, but I appreciated Rachman’s ability to do so much so well in so limited a way.
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LibraryThing member sarah-e
This is a great, quick read about a newspaper in Italy, run by American expats. Each chapter is about a different person with a different role at the paper, and sections at the ends of the chapters tell the history of the paper and the story of the man who founded it. The style is the perfect way to tell this story.

I enjoyed the read through about 90% of the book. Then, something threw me. There's an event at the end that didn't fit the story at all. It left me with a horrible feeling, like all of the charming, funny stories about these people were just a trick to get me to read the page where the bad thing happens. It's not that the stories were all wholesome and happy, all of the stories have their share of sadness and misfortune. I imagine the writer wanted something shocking to happen, or didn't know what to do next and just gave this a try. Anyway, the ending was bad. I recommend anyone to read it, but be a bit warned.… (more)
LibraryThing member dmsteyn
I feel a bit ambivalent about this book, which relates vignettes from the lives of several people connected to an international newspaper based in Rome. On the one hand, it is a very dark, depressing collection of related human stories, which offers little in the way of redemption for its cast of ‘Imperfectionists’. On the other hand, it is quite well-written, and provides a thought-provoking fictional take on the world of newspapers, a world which has always interested me.

The book has been described as a comedy, but the humour in it tends towards the bittersweet. Rachman does not pull punches in describing the depressing reality of his characters. I would not say that he takes pleasure in demeaning his characters, but he does seem to have a bleak take on life. Despite this, I did laugh out loud a few times. For example, this quote from the first story of the paper’s young Cairo stringer, Winston, had me guffawing:

'As he spoke, the yellow Egyptian sun shone very brightly, as if that golden sphere were blazing with the very hope for peace in the Middle East that burned also within the heart of the Palestinian undersecretary for sports, fishing, and wildlife.'

Even here, though, there is an element of sadness beneath the humour: Winston, is obviously struggling against the tide, and, despite his best efforts, he is going under. The situation in the Middle East also does not gel that well with humour. Winston, for instance, also has an embarrassing encounter in the marketplace when he tries to elicit comments on his story by approaching a women wearing a burka, touching her, and asking her about terrorism. Needless to say, this does not turn out well for poor Winston.

As I said, the prose is good, and the structure works quite well. Should one condemn the book for its extreme pessimism, however? I do not think so, even though I disliked what happened to some of the characters for whom I was pulling. There is a Thomas Hardy element to this bleakness of vision, though it is obviously not a traditionally Hardyesque book. The book bears a family resemblance to Evelyn Waugh’s black humour. The obvious comparison would be to his Scoop, which I unfortunately have not read as yet.

All said, I can understand the antipathy some readers feel towards this book. I do not share that dislike for the book, but I also did not love it. It left me feeling disheartened about the future of publishing, and about the human condition in general. There is a glimmer of hope at the end of the book, but you have to squint to see it. Not a book I would recommend to depressives. But it is quite good.
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LibraryThing member ForeignCircus
I was suprised by how very much I enjoyed this wonderful debut novel. Revolving around the lives of the current staff of an English language daily published in Rome, the narrative is broken up by snippets from the past that give the reader greater insight into the paper than the characters themselves have. Each chapter is a short story about one of the characters; the way they weave together to tell the story of the paper itself is a delightful surprise.

Each of these vignettes has its own flavor, and while some are happy or redemptive, most highlight the feelings of futility that must haunt many newsrooms as newspapers are overtaken by the realities of the digital age. Regardless, this is an excellent debut novel with characters any reader is sure to remember. Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member Dorritt
A novel about the staff of a small, international newspaper headquartered in Rome in the 1950s is ordinarily the last place I’d look for authentic character studies. Why pick a setting so strongly associated with universal stereotypes – wisecracking reporters, neurotic editors, cold-hearted publishers, profit-obsessed owners, experience-hardened expat Americans, food-obsessed Italians – if you don’t intend to avail yourself of them? Have to wonder if this is a challenge Rachman deliberately set himself in choosing a newsroom as the setting for this collection of short stories, each exploring in penetrating yet authentic detail the character, motives and impulses of one of the newsroom’s staff? Sounds like something a precocious graduate student would attempt, and I understand Rachman wasn’t many years out of grad school when he wrote this.

The title “The Imperfectionists” is well chosen, as each chapter/character study focuses on how the choices we make in life are seldom idealistic, seldom simple, seldom laudable … and yet inevitably true to the motives and impulses that shape our fundamental natures. We choose marriage not because we love but because we embrace convention, fear loneliness, need help coping with the challenges of a foreign language; we choose to delude ourselves not because we’re ignorant, but because we deliberately choose ignorance; we attempt noble things (establishing newspapers, writing great stories, championing feminist causes) not out of an idealistic sense of duty, but driven by passions infinitely more personal. The portraits that emerge are at once unfamiliar yet authentic, unsentimental yet compassionate, and organically witty without ever lapsing into deliberate irony or sarcasm.

Can understand why this has made all the critics so breathless. What Rachman does, he does splendidly well. He's a lovely writer with the gift of defining characters organically, through dialog and action rather than tedious expository text. Will I remember this book 6 months from now, though? I suspect not. For while the book’s theme is deftly, competently, and entertainingly presented, not sure it comes as much of a surprise. The reason it’s so easy to empathize with the folks in these stories – even the obnoxious ones – isn’t just because Rachman is good at what he does; it’s because, like the characters in this book, most of us have all at some point in our lives realized that the choices we make, the choices that define us, are seldom guided by idealism, sense or logic … but that we are nevertheless powerless to choose any other way.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Though billed as a novel, this is a series of vignettes or short stories that each focus on a different character. These characters have one thing in common: their connection - often employment - with an English-language newspaper in Italy. The stories are told in chronological order, so even as we move between each character's point of view and story, the full picture that we begin to put together is of the newspaper itself. In between each story, we learn more of the back story of how the paper came to be in the first place, and by the end of the book the two stories - the character sketches and the story of the newspaper - have merged.

I'm rather conflicted about this book. I liked the format, which often reminded me of Olive Kitteridge. In the latter, the short stories taken together gave me a mosaic of this one character as seen from many points of view. In The Imperfectionists, each character's story eventually gives you a full picture of the newsroom. Each story is rather artfully done, too, with clever use of language and interesting - though very imperfect - characters. And here my conflict lies. I did not these characters, and I have a very tough time reading about characters that I dislike. By the time I realized that no one was going to be likable, I was too far in to abandon the book. I found the characters and the overall tone fairly depressing, so the more I think about the book, the less I like it. The writing is superb, though, and at moments I cared about the characters despite my dislike, which tips the balance positively overall.
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LibraryThing member karieh
This book was an interesting blend of things for me…there was a touch of “Office Space” workplace politics, a bit of nostalgia for the past when the news almost always involved the smell of ink and newsprint, and some small romantic elements – probably derived from the setting of the story in Italy.

I enjoyed the story and the characters…and was carried along on the easy flow of the writing style. The book lets each character speaks in her/his own voice – and they are very different…though there is an underlying clarity of style that made for a very pleasant read. Pleasant, and a few times, rather poetic.

“We enjoy this illusion of continuity, and we call it memory. Which explains, perhaps, why out worst fear isn’t the end of life but the end of memories.”

The characters in this book would be recognizable, I think, to most people. There are the usual workplace personalities…but they don’t come across as stereotypes. There are stereotypical quirks, true, such in the case of the copy editor that complains about and waits for a certain office chair for six years (which then, of course, tends to disappear and drive her to distraction) – but the reader is then given further insight into the copy editor that turns her into a real person. At one point this incredibly lonely woman goes into a crowd seemingly only to be able to actually touch other human beings.

Many of these characters seem trapped in their present. They work in an industry that is experiencing a tremendous upheaval – and neither their employers nor they seem ready or willing to embrace the change. We learn a bit about their past, but mostly about where they are in their lives; what their present involves as they stand on the uncertain precipice of their future.

“And the paper isn’t his to fill as he pleases. It’s not disloyal if he spikes the piece, is it? What about credibility? “Credibility,” he mutters, and it is a sodden, fraudulent word on this day.”

This is the story of the creation of a world – the world of a small newspaper in Rome. We see the birth of the idea, the people who shape it, and the people who are around at the end of the dream. People who live and love and lose – but people who are drawn together in the creation of stories. People whose livelihoods are made by the stringing together of words – and who are then left to wonder the value of what they do. From the publisher, to the reporter, to the copy editor to the reader. They are all tied together by this paper, by the news that is reported there. Their days are shaped by ink on paper – by the reporting of what may happen in the future and the discovery of what occurred in the past.

“When I’m old and bent and sitting in a chair, you come and hold my hand. All right? That’s your job. Okay?” He takes her hand and kisses it. “No,” he says. “When you’re old and bent, I’ll be gone. I’ll hold it now. Later, you’ll have to remember.”

Words are one of our ways to record those memories. And words about real people and events are news. And news, of course, it ultimately about people. What they do, what they plan to do and what they have done in the past.

The “Imperfectionists” as created by Tom Rachman, is a good view behind the scenes of the people behind not making the news, but bringing it into our lives.
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LibraryThing member fist
Delightfully written story. The narrative builds up through a sequence of stories about the various people at an international newspaper based in Rome. For each of these people something ends or breaks down in their story, within the general decline of the newspaper that binds their lives together. In spite of the unhappy developments for the paper and most of the characters, the author describes each of them with wry sympathy and often comic insight in people's petty emotions.… (more)
LibraryThing member gbill
“The Imperfectionists” works on many levels: great characters in chapters that could have served as excellent short stories, a plot that weaves them together and tells of the rise and fall of a newspaper in Rome, and nuanced writing, with witty dialog and an occasional thunderbolt of surprise in a couple of the chapters mixed in. Rachman demonstrates an understanding of the subtleties of relationships between all sorts of people, and I was impressed that this was his first book.

Quotes:
On airline travel:
“From the corner of her eye, she spots a man pausing at her row, consulting his ticket. She glares out the window, imploring him away. (Once, she allowed a fellow passenger to engage her in conversation and it became the longest flight of her life. He made her play Scrabble and insisted that ‘ug’ was a word. Since then, her rule has been to never talk on planes.)”

On death, this one on an interview for an obituary:
“All the while, he knows how little will make it into print – decades of a person’s life condensed into a few paragraphs, with a final resting place at the bottom of page nine, between Puzzle-Wuzzle and World Weather.”

On ego:
“Here is a fact: nothing in all civilization has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshipped by man.”

On loneliness:
“You know, there’s that silly saying, ‘We’re born alone and we die alone’ – it’s nonsense. We’re surrounded at birth and surrounded at death. It is in between that we’re alone.”

On old age:
“Libido: it has been the tyrant of his times, hurling him from comfortable America all those years ago to sinful Europe for adventure and conquest, marrying him four times, tripping him up a hundred more, distracting and degrading and nearly ruining him. Yet now it is mercifully done with, desire having dwindled these past years, as mysterious in departure as it was on arrival. For the first time since age twelve, Lloyd witnesses the world without motive. And he is quite lost.”

“What I really fear is time. That’s the devil: whipping us on when we’d rather loll, so the present sprints by, impossible to grasp, and all is suddenly past, a past that won’t hold still, that slides into these inauthentic tales. My past – it doesn’t feel real in the slightest. The person who inhabited it is not me. It’s as if the present me is constantly dissolving. There’s that line of Heraclitus: ‘No man steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.’ That’s quite right. We enjoy this illusion of continuity, and we call it memory.”
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LibraryThing member lkernagh
Cyrus Ott is an American businessman with a dream: he wants to start an international English-language newspaper based in Rome, Italy to be sold around the world. With that goal in mind, he convinces two newspaper acquaintances of his already residing in Rome to join him in this venture. They agree and the birth of the newspaper occurs in 1953.

The Imperfectionists is a loose amalgamation of stories spanning the 50 year life cycle (1953 - 2007) of the fictitious newspaper and the mixed bag of newspaper reporters, editors, executives and one truly dedicated reader that are the human machines that try to keep this floundering business venture afloat. They are all damaged, flawed characters in their own unique ways. Some are lovable, some only likable with obvious weaknesses and some are just down right annoying, but annoying in a manner similar to being glued to an oncoming train wreck- you just know it is going to be bad but you can't avert your eyes from the scene unfolding before you.

I loved this book and couldn't put it down once I started reading it. The characters are fantastic, in all their jaded glory, and the historical chapters progress the reader through the time line of the life of the newspaper that lets the reader see how the newspaper evolved to it current form. If you like to root for the underdog and the downtrodden you may enjoy this novel about a group of individuals and how they face the circumstances of their work and personal lives.

This is one that I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member jennyo
Read this book on vacation last week. I think it's the best book I've read since Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna. This book is a novel, but almost more like a collection of short stories. It's about the people who put out an English language newspaper in Rome. Each chapter is a story about one of the characters. And they are brilliantly written. Quirky, funny, sad, hopeful, hopeless...there's a little of everything in this mix.

I will definitely be suggesting this book as our next book club read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would love to hear what others think of the characters.
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LibraryThing member AramisSciant
The book is very, very well written but I wouldn't call it a "debut novel"; more like a collection of short stories with certain common threads and characters. The writing is really great and the young author writes about jaded characters who've been in journalism for decades in such
exquisite detail that you'd think he's been one himself. My only problem is that there is not one sympathetic character in the whole thing. I do like some human imperfections in my characters but there are hardly any redeeming aspects in the whole bunch and the stories are bleak and mean. There are comic passages but the humor is always dark.
An excellent read in parts but I cannot say it was an enjoyable read (to me).
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LibraryThing member BAP1012
Loved this book by the time I finished. I had a hard time getting started - probably because I was trying to squeeze in reading time during lunch at work - but after I got a better understanding of the flow and started putting the characters into place at the newspaper office, I was hooked.

The writing is satirical, humorous, sad, realistic, exaggerated, even brave.… (more)
LibraryThing member Seven.Stories.Press
A must for anyone who's been on the front lines of the implosion of the newspaper business over the past 20-40 years. I began my journalism career in my mid-90s, when things had already begun to decline, but I knew enough (and heard/learned enough from my mentors and old-timers) to realize what a sad and horrible thing was happening.

The plot isn't as elegant or seamless as one would hope, leaving this a novel that may be less appealing for those without a current or nostalgic connection to the newspaper business. And some of the characters are less developed than they could be – but that's kind of how it is in the newsroom, too. We never really know the full story of any of our colleagues, beyond their persona behind the desk, and that's part of what made it all so exciting: it always was all about the work and the stories, not the money or the personalities, and it's a real tragedy that investors and stockholders took all the fun out of what was surely the most interesting and life-affirming work I've ever had the pleasure of doing. Even when I was just a farm reporter in Western Illinois and had to burn my clothes after interviewing a factory pig farmer… it was real work, being out in the world and producing something original and new every day. I miss it, and this book reminded me not only how much but why.
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LibraryThing member Letter4No1
The Imperfectionists chronically the lives of the journalists working for an American News Paper in Rome. Each story follows a different person as they work, play, mourn and more often then not contemplate a life outside of journalism. The stories themselves are connected by two or three pages at the end of each chapter that show the progress of the paper from a chance to be close to a former love, to a financial almost success, to it's failure.

I've been struggling with this review for a few days. I like The Imperfectionists, but I think a lot of my enjoyment was more centered around it being my first e-book then on the stories I was reading. The chapter/story titles were intriguing, and often the thing i was looking most forward to.

I'm starting to really have a problem with collections of short stories being marketed as novels. Just by putting in a few pages of back story after a completely unrelated chapter doesn't give you a novel. In fact the back story with the Ott group completely put me off. There wasn't enough time devoted to it in the beginning to really care about it, then I just came to dread there irrelevant appearance.

It's not that I didn't like The Imperfectionists, it's just that I liked it just enough for it not to be mediocre. I don't usually give out real ratings, but if I did, this is a perfect example of 3.5 stars. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but it left me with nothing, not a character to haunt me, or a storyline to continue to think about. I put my kindle down and was done.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Going into this one I didn’t realize it was a string of interconnected short stories. Using this style we’re introduced to a dozen staff members of an English-language newspaper in Rome, but the real main character of the book is the paper itself.

In between each of the modern-day vignettes are glimpses into the history of the newspaper, beginning with its founding in 1954 by a rich man named Cyrus Ott. He hires a married couple, Betty and Leo, to run the paper. For decades the Ott family continues to fund the paper, even when it is struggling.

The rest of the stories follow individuals who currently work at the paper. There’s the Editor-in-Chief, Kathleen, a business-minded woman whose husband might be having an affair. There’s Lloyd, a washed-up reporter living in Paris, who is desperate for a story. Another employee, Arthur, suffers a tragedy but ends up with a promotion. Herman, a 30-year vet at the paper, spends time with an old friend. He’s able to see his own life from a new perspective when he realizes how much they’ve grown apart.

A few of the stories, notably those featuring Hardy, Abbey, Ruby and especially Winston made me cringe. They’re written so well, but I hate situations where people are blatantly taking advantage of others. Despite that aspect, the characters feel real and the style reminds me of some of Maeve Binchy’s short story collections. They aren’t uplifting, but they are realistic.

I think the main reason I enjoyed this one is because I could identify with the newspaper aspects of the book. I could recognize the personalities of so many of the employees. I remember being a reporter at a paper that was on its last leg. I remember the discussions about how the internet was effecting the publishing world. It was always a struggle and it’s the story of the newspaper that rang true for me and made the collection work.

BOTTOM LINE: Try it if you love books set in foreign countries, love interwoven short story collections or have a deep love of journalism.

“The only death we experience is that of other people. That’s as bad as it gets. And that’s bad enough, surely.”

“Nothing epitomizes the futility of human striving quite life aspartame.”

“But this is how he is: easygoing, which means tough-going for everyone else.”
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
I have been known, in the past, to describe certain books as a slog – a tough read, one that I got bogged down in. The Imperfectionists, by contrast, is a romp – a book that pulled me in and carried me along from beginning to end.

How to describe this book? If you’ve read anything about it, you know that The Imperfectionists is a collection of linked stories (a genre that seems to be becoming increasingly popular). The link between them is an international English-language newspaper in Rome. In each chapter, we get a snapshot of an individual, most of who work for the newspaper. These are rich portraits of interesting, diverse individuals, and characters introduced in early chapters are often mentioned in passing in later chapters, rounding out our understanding of them. But these portraits also give us insight into the newspaper itself and the challenges it is facing at the beginning of the 21st century. After each chapter, there is a brief flashback to a moment in the history of the newspaper. Appropriately, the present-day portraits converge with the historical perspective, just as the fate of the people is intertwined with the fate of the paper.

There is a classic management article that I assign to my students called, “The People Make the Place.” What is an organization but the collection of people who work there? Rachman illustrates this point perfectly. At first glance he is telling the stories of 11 individuals. But in actuality, there is no better way to tell the story of this newspaper than by telling the interlocked stories of the people who work there.

This is one of my memorable reads for the year.
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LibraryThing member kristenn
Impulse buy due to early rave reviews. Probably shouldn't do that. Well-written but really not my thing. Not least because I'm missing the schadenfreude gene. It's all bad things happening to unsympathetic people. His portrayal of women in particular became increasingly off-putting. They're all brilliant and competent (unlike many of the men) and utter monsters. The twists get increasingly brutal and the last one is just gratuitous shock value. Very disappointing. I love stories with multiple narrators. I enjoy short stories strung together into a novel. I'm a loyal print newspaper subscriber. And the writing itself is frequently vivid and enjoyable. The book kicks off with this great image of bicycles huddling in a courtyard and I had high hopes. But I just wanted a shower afterwards. A reader review pointed out that of course professional reviewers love it -- it's about journalists. It won't create the same thrill in the rest of us. Something to remember next time.… (more)

Pages

288

ISBN

0385343663 / 9780385343664
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