The Italian Teacher

by Tom Rachman

Hardcover, 2018

Call number





Viking (2018), 352 pages


"A masterful novel that moves from Roman apartments to SoHo galleries to the South of France and tells the story of the son of a great painter striving to create his own legacy, by the bestselling author of THE IMPERFECTIONISTS. Rome, 1955. The artists gather for a picture at a party in an ancient villa. Bear Bavinsky, creator of vast canvases, larger than life, is at the centre of the picture. His wife, Natalie, edges out of the shot. From the side of the room watches little Pinch - their son. At five years old he loves Bear almost as much as he fears him. After Bear abandons their family, Pinch will still worship him, striving to live up to the Bavinsky name; while Natalie, a ceramicist, cannot hope to be more than a forgotten muse. Trying to burn brightly in his father's shadow, Pinch's attempts flicker and die. Yet by the end of a career of twists and compromises, Pinch will enact an unexpected rebellion that will leave forever his mark upon the Bear Bavinsky legacy. A masterful, original examination of love, duty, art and fame, The Italian Teacher cements Tom Rachman as among this generation's most exciting literary voices"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member hubblegal
Pinch’s parents are both artists. His mother, Natalie, is an eccentric maker of pottery and his father is the renowned painter, Bear Bavinsky. Bear is completely self-absorbed and only cares about his art. His son strives for his attention and praise. When Pinch makes his own effort at being an artist, his father tells him that he, Pinch, will never be an artist and Pinch believes him. Bears abandons Pinch and his mother in Italy and is off to America, where more wives and children await him. Pinch dreams of writing his father’s biography one day but he becomes completely disillusioned and lost and ends up teaching Italian in London. When Bear dies, Pinch comes up with a plan that he hopes will secure his father’s legacy.

This is such a beautifully written book, one that I became fully emerged in. Pinch is such a conflicted soul and tries so hard to impress his father, only to fall flat due to Bear’s egocentricity. My heart broke over and over for him and I just wanted to shake him and tell him to go live his own life. Natalie becomes so unstable and insecure but her constant love for her son shines throughout the book. Bear, as despicable as he can be, also has a charming side and it’s obvious why his son is so blinded by him. This is a vivid portrayal of a man who has lived his life for someone else’s art, ignoring his own dreams. I often wanted to Google these people to find out more about them, they were that real.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Tom Rachman writes really well and has, so far, chosen to write about things that interest me. So my expectations were unnaturally high for The Italian Teacher (art! Italy!). I'm happy to say that Rachman exceeded what I had anticipated. The Italian Teacher hit all my sweet spots, while also being a very good book.

Pinch is born in 1950, the son of Natalie, a young Canadian woman who came to Rome to work on her art, and Bear Bavinsky, a larger than life prominent painter who dominates every room he enters. Bear eventually leaves his second family for a third, and Natalie and Pinch become a team. She encourages his painting and he helps his increasingly unstable mother negotiate life in Rome and then in London. The novel follows Pinch all through his life, one that is quiet and restrained, but also dominated by the spirit (and occasionally the presence) of his father.

This book, guys. It's a whole bunch of things. Just when it starts to approach a dead end or seems to be going somewhere expected, it shifts into something different. The coming of age novel in which Pinch and his mother negotiate a rag tag life in Rome becomes a college novel set in Canada, and then it all becomes somewhat Stoner-esque, as Pinch, a naturally modest person, lives quietly as a foreign language teacher, and then the whole book explodes with deception, intrigue, forgeries and lies. I liked it.
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LibraryThing member kimkimkim
I started off engrossed, interested, and with great expectations, then my interest was deflated and I ultimately couldn’t have cared less. This book is populated by the neediest people who plod on and on.

I have read the reviews and have nothing of significance to add. The following are a few of the thoughts that stayed with me.

“Destruction is a relief as completion never can be. But it is his completion, his destruction, his relief.”

“human connections are the refuge of those who couldn’t make art. Now he suspects art is the refuge of those who cannot connect.”

“Events were not beyond his control, but he just couldn’t have been other than what he was”

He believed he had achieved what he deserves.

Longing for attention, for love from a father who only ever acknowledged owning him. Is there solace in realizing the roles have reversed?
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LibraryThing member siri51
another excellent weekend read - artists are always written about as being so intriguing
LibraryThing member wilsonknut
I really enjoyed this novel. Rachman's storytelling is nearly perfect. I was engrossed to the point of wanting to grab these characters by the shoulders and shake them screaming, "Why?!?"

Pinch Bavinsky is the son of Bear Bavinsky, a famous womanizing artist who burn the majority of his paintings before anyone can see them, because they don't meet his standards. Pinch idolizes his father and spends his life trying to win his father's approval.… (more)
LibraryThing member pgchuis
Gave up at page 50.

Depressing and I didn't engage with any of the characters.
LibraryThing member Helenliz
Told in segments of events over a series of years, this tells of Charles (pinch) Bavinsky and his life. It also concentrates attention on the character and interaction of his father, Bear Bavinsky, an artist. Bear is a womaniser Pinch's mother, Natalie, is his third wife. He treats her quite badly and she is not sufficiently robust to survive his treatment, nor that of Pinch, for whom is father is the one he wants to please, his mother's more constant support is viewed more as of right and valued less accordingly.
Pinch is a difficult person to get to know and to like. He is bad at reading people, and manages to mess up most of his relaitonships over the years. Those that persist are with his college friend, Marsden and his older sister, Birdie. There is a later, more uscessful relationship with Jing, that seems to provide some sort of later life comfort. Maybe Pinh was just born middle aged.
He tries to be an artist until his father pours scorn on his efforts, in fact, his father does very little positive at any point, except coerce Pinch into being the luardian of his legacy. And that leads to the twist that you see comming along the way, but doesn't really turn the knife until the end. I can't say I felt much for Pinch, he was too difficult and socially diffident to be a character that you can empathise with, but I did stongly dislike his father, and maybe that explains a lot about Pinch.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
"Oh, Daddy! The art was so much better than the man.”
Tom Rathman's latest novel, The Italian Teacher was a nominee for the Costa Award and with good cause. The novel is in one sense about the great painter Bear Bavinsky who is recognized as an American Master though few have ever seen his very private collection. "They’re here for Bear Bavinsky, creator of expressionistic masterworks, wild colors crashing across each composition, a bare throat filling the huge canvas, or a roll of tummy fat, or a pricked shoulder. His detail portraits are too intimate—uncomfortably penetrating despite never once including a subject’s face."
But since the story is told through the eyes of his son, Charles, the novel is much more about fathers and sons and the extent to which a family should suffer for the art of their patriarch. We come to realize that Charlie is but one of 17 children sired by Bear who floats into new marriages and families throughout his life, but Charlie becomes the one that Bear decides he will leave his legacy to. "When I check out,” Bear concludes, “I’m in your hands. You, my boy. You are the one.” Although Bear never realizes it, this is the moment when his son takes over."
Charles, or Pinch, as he is nicknamed after a small snack in Spain, has an unfulfilled life, struggling along always looking for his father's approval. He tried painting also and was quite pleased with his ability until his father set him straight. He becomes an Italian Teacher in London and over the years has become a sad but accepted fixture in the school. "After a few years at Utz, Pinch becomes a personality there, his self-satirizing quirks drifting into shtick: the white Panama hat in summer, the smelly briar pipe, his necktie of turtles, the socks with double-decker buses."
His saving solace is to return to the studio in France where his father has stored his collection of "life stills". As he wrestles with how to appropriately keep the Bavinsky legacy intact and please all the siblings who want some compensation for a fatherless life, he finally takes shape as a character more complicated than initially described. Let's just say I loved the last third of the book. Highly recommend.

Some lines: "But an artist can’t worry about other people. Think of the middle-aged French stockbroker who left his wife and kids to paint in the tropics, never bothering to see them again, scarring them forever. Who doubts Gauguin was right to go?"

"I’ve never been able to get mad at your father. Why is that?” “Because there’s no malice in Dad. He’s just that way. Like a huge ship, powering forward on his mission, and nobody can stop it.” “I see,” Natalie notes, “that you’re still very engaged with Bear.” He looks to the restaurant clock, irritated. Nobody likes to be understood without warning.

But he does look older than his years, with a hunch of which he is hardly aware, lacking anyone intimate enough to correct his downward trend. Only a few cross-swept strands of hair still intervene between his bald dome and the rain. A paunch juts over his belt, as if peeking off a high diving board.

She casts back her long chestnut hair, which cascades ticklishly over his face. He blinks through the strands, inhaling the scent of rose-patchouli shampoo and the distant musk from between her thighs.
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LibraryThing member SandDune
In 1950's Rome 5 year old Charles, nicknamed Pinch, worships his father, Bear Bavinsky, one of the iconic artists of the mid-twentieth century. But while the egotistical Bear's art prospers, that of his wife Natalie, an accomplished potter, flounders. Pinch grows up not fitting in, not into the American school that he attends where the other children and the productsof a country that he has never visited, and not into the gangs of Italian children playing on the street. And as Pinch grows up and his father abandons Natalie for a succession of new wives and new children, Charles can never get over his desire for his father's approval, a desire that ends up ruling his life. In a life that travels from Rome to London to Canada and back to Rome, Charles struggles with relationships and career, and returns over and over again to try to win his father's approval ....

This wasn't a cheerful book, and I can't honestly say that I enjoyed it hugely, although I do appreciate that it was well written. It has a lot to say about the modern art world, so if that's your thing then you may find it more appealing. But above all it seemed a portrait of a wasted life, and I'm certainly not going to rush out to buy anything else by Tom Rachman.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
We are all familiar with the injunction not to judge a book by its cover, but I think we might perhaps extend that to include not making assumptions based upon the title. My initial thoughts on seeing piles of a book called ‘The Italian Teacher’ heaped on one of the table in Daunt Books was that it sounded like a Mills & Boon style romance (‘… he taught her Italian and then they both spoke the language of love …’). Indeed, if I had not recognised Tim Rachman’s name as the author of [The Imperfectionists], I would probably simply have ignored it completely.

To have done so would have been to miss out on a treat. This is a marvellous novel that addresses, among other issues, the nature of art, and the shifting parameters of the relationship between a father and son. That may all sound rather ominous, but Rachman delivers it all with great humour.

The story opens in 1955 in Rome, where five-year-old Charles ‘Pinch’ Bavinsky is living with his expatriate parents. His mother Natalie is Canadian and in her twenties while Bear is American and some twenty years older than her. Bear is a celebrated artist, having already established his position in the vanguard of the post-war American art world. Natalie is an aspiring sculptress, but is gradually losing confidence in her abilities, and sense that Bear has come wholly to disregard her creative ambitions.

Bear is an enigmatic figure. He is perfectly happy with his status as a former ‘enfant terrible of the American art world, and has an unshakeable confidence in his own talent. Paradoxically, however, he becomes increasingly reluctant to exhibit any new work, adopting a stance similar to that of J D Salinger. Even at this relatively early stage, he is increasingly adamant that he will not sell any more paintings, preferring instead that, after his death, his oeuvre should be donated to a museum or gallery which will ensure that the works are available to everyone, rather than languishing in a private collection.

It becomes clear that relations between Bear and Natalie are delicate, and they are subject to further strain when Birdie, Bear’s daughter from a previous relationship, comes to visit for a few days. One of the most notable aspects of Birdie’s visit is the increased attention Bear pays to Pinch, as if he is playing his offspring off against each other. This manifests itself principally in the lessons in the basic skills of painting that Bear gives to Pinch, convincing the boy that he has a strong natural talent.

Bear departs shortly afterwards, although Pinch believes that he is simply on a visit somewhere, and constantly expects his return. Eventually Pinch accepts that Bear will not be coming back, and we learn that he is now living in New England, with a new family. Such flitting from one relationship to another, leaving ex-wives and children behind him, is a recurring pattern for Bear. Pinch’s own relationship with Bear fluctuates widely and will prove to be the bedrock for the whole novel. Veering from ardent adulation almost to hatred, Pinch seems always to struggle to hold Bear’s attention, even on the relatively rare occasions when they are together.

The book is beautifully written. Although the narrative focuses on ‘Pinch’ and his passage through life, Bear dominates. Rachman captures the frustrations of Pinch’s life, and his frequent tendency to vacillate, or over-think any situation. Rachman moves fluidly between heart-warming or, occasionally heart-rending, moments and episodes of almost slapstick comedy, but none seem out of place. He also captures the reader’s attention right from the start. Having bought the book on an impule, when I came to read it I had made sure that I had a couple of other books with me to fall back upon if I didn’t like it, but I needn’t have bothered: I found myself ensnared from the very start.
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LibraryThing member nancyadair
The Italian Teacher is destined to be one of my favorite reads of the year.

Tom Rachman's character Pinch is the son of a philandering, larger-than-life artist, Bear Bavinsky. Bear is charming and unreliable.

Pinch spends his entire life trying to get his dad's attention and approval. He imitates his dad, smoking a pipe early. In a one day lesson Bear teachers Pinch the fundamentals of painting and Pinch dreams of following in his father's footsteps.

Bear abandons Pinch and his mother, once his model, for the next model to pose for him; he leaves a sting of women behind him, and seventeen neglected children.

Bear routinely destroys any canvas he deems sub par. And he decides to stop selling or showing his art, a plan to drive up the values of his canvases. He becomes a legend, a tantalizing mystery in the art world.

Pinch feels a failure, unable to get what he needs from Bear. He flounders through his life, searching for an achievement that would finally elicit real love and approval from his father. His dissertation is on Caravaggio because his father once praised him; his dad doesn't remember doing so. Pinch ends up teaching Italian and foreign languages in London.

Not only is he unable to settle on a career, he loses his college girlfriend when she agrees to pose nude for Bear, which drives Pinch crazy: he knows his dad too well. He later marries a woman and again is too possessive and loses her. He finally moves in with a coworker, sharing a house.

His college friend Marsden comes in and out of his life, but is always reliable and can be counted on.

Too late, Bear corrects Pinch: he never said Pinch was a bad artist, just that he didn't have the personality and selfishness to BE an artist.

Pinch's life is sad, miserable, and heartbreaking. So, you ask me, why would you ever want to read this book about a loser? The story has an unexpected turn and a truly comedic ending

Of all his children, Bear chooses Pinch to be his confidence man, even leaving his estate and paintings to him. He believes Pinch understands and supports his intention.

Pinch hatches a scheme that is the greatest scam of all time, a joke on the whole world of art, a way to keep his seventeen half-siblings happy, and still keep his promise to his dad.

And then...another reversal gives Pinch a place in the art world he so desperately desired. The novel left me laughing. It is a brilliant reversal.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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LibraryThing member kayanelson
TOB 2019--This book could have gotten 4 and 1/2 stars if it hadn't taken so long to get into. The first two parts were slow going for me and it was hard to believe that the stage was being set for the rest of the book. But it was. The exact turning point in the book was when Pinch said his life was beginning or something like that when he knew he had the power over his father, Bear. This book discusses family dynamics, poor parenting, awkwardness in life among other things. It's all very subtle but done well in the end.… (more)




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