The final days of an unnamed English-language newspaper based in Rome, Italy, is the backdrop for The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman’s poignant and compelling debut novel. Unfolding in a series of eleven carefully crafted vignettes, Rachman’s novel follows the lives of people who are impacted by the paper, either as employees or readers. Short passages at the end of each vignette trace the paper’s history, from its establishment in the mid-‘50s to its closing in 2007.
The Imperfectionists is a character-driven novel, and some of the more memorable characters Rachman introduces include editor-in-chief Kathleen Solson; corrections editor Herman Cohen; copy editor Ruby Zaga; chief financial officer Abbey Pinnola; and longtime reader Ornella de Monterecchi. Through their quirks and foibles, they reveal a deep and abiding love for the newspaper and the industry, even as economic pressures and changing reading habits force the owners to make difficult decisions about the future of the paper. My favorite character is Herman Cohen, a man who’s doggedly determined to correct other people’s mistakes, but who doesn’t realize he may need to “correct” a misconception or two of his own regarding a longtime friend. I also enjoyed how Rachman developed connections between his primary characters and secondary characters like Dario de Monterecchi, son of Ornella, former lover of Kathleen Solson, and unrequited crush of Ruby Zaga. This is a novel that requires close and careful reading because a character who receives a single mention in one vignette could become the central figure of another.
The Imperfectionists is an accomplished debut with well-developed characters and a strong sense of setting. These strengths are rooted in Rachman’s background; prior to writing the novel, he worked in Rome as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press. Rachman’s rendering of the paper is so vivid, you feel as if it could have existed. This sense of realism is enhanced by the fictional paper’s coverage of real news events and the provocative history of the paper Rachman develops throughout the novel.
Readers with a background in journalism will appreciate Rachman’s loving portrait of the industry, but I think The Imperfectionists will also appeal to readers looking for a dynamic story and complex, all-too-human characters.
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