Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Tessa Bright Wildsmith
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Newspapers are typically full of quirky people, each with their own strange personality but all with a passion for the news. “The Imperfectionists” offers characters who are no exception. The book takes place at an international English-speaking newspaper based out of Rome, Italy. We get glimpses into the private lives of the reporters, publishers, editors and more as they struggle to keep their lives, and the paper, afloat.

Even though every newsroom is full of characters, some eccentric, some quiet, they always seem to mesh together into a working news-producing machine. In “The Imperfectionists,” each chapter introduces us to a different newsroom character. There’s the lazy obit writer, Arthur Gopal, whose life is changed forever with a sudden tragedy. There’s Hardy Benjamin, the business reporter, who is sad and insecure and whom I just felt sorry for. My personal favorite was Herman Cohen, corrections editor. Herman is loud and boisterous and enjoys his daily entries into “the bible,” the in-house style guide for the paper. Each character has such a different personal life, but they all come together everyday to the crazy newspaper that none of them ever want to leave.

Mixed in with all the lives of the employees, there is a back story of the paper’s founding and its history. While no one has ever figured out why the founder, the independently wealthy businessman Cyrus Ott, decided to travel from Atlanta to Rome and start a quirky paper, his family and board have always kept it going in his memory. With a goal of always making money, but never being profitable, the paper has stayed alive all these years because the Ott family loved their patriarch. Now, the paper forges ahead to an uncertain future and into the age of the Internet.

The thing I found most impressive about “The Imperfectionists” is that it is not one cohesive novel, but more like a series of short, vivid tales. Each chapter and character story could easily stand alone as an independent short story, but yet, by the time you finish the book, you have a look at the paper as a whole.

I was extremely impressed with Rachman’s characters. They all had depth and emotion, and I felt I somehow got to know them in their one short chapter. Each character is fascinating and independent and the only commonality tying this flawed group of people together is their sinking, quirky, beloved newspaper. Rachman’s writing is perfect.

With this vibrant, funny and emotion-filled debut, I would look to a bright literary career for Rachman. If his first book is this good, I can’t wait to see what he writes in the future.

Have you read “The Imperfectionists?” Discuss your thoughts on the book below.

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