1 Jun 2012

Review: "The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman

If you have never been to Rome, then please put it at the top if your to do list. It is the most amazing city, a city that you have to visit at least once in your life. In "The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman, Rome is almost more of a character than a setting. It seeps into every line and the smell of fresh pasta and sweet flowering jasmine almost pours of the pages, making me hungry for both Italian food and a Roman holiday.

This is a book where you get more than you bargain for. It is a novel - indeed the full title is "The Imperfectionists: A Novel" - but it is composed of eleven short stories that all interlink and makes the total more than the sum of the parts. The plot, or plots, center around the happenings at the office on an international newspaper. Founded by an eccentric businessman in 1950s, it has been through good times and bad times and in 2004, when the reader is introduced to the story, it is going through what is decidedly a bad time. A new young publisher has taken over and he is by all accounts more interested in walking his dog than in newspapers and businesses and everyone from the editor-in-chief, cool and collected Kathleen, to the hopeful freelancer in Cairo are feeling the pressure.

Every chapter follows a different character and where this could lead to disconnect and to a lack cohesion, it instead brings out the best and the worst in every character as we get to see them from a range of angles. At worst this is interesting, at best it is riveting. Just like even the dodgy, grimy parts of Rome have a unique, rustic charm, even the most frustrating of these characters have personality and trait that makes you root for them.

My personal favourite was Herman Cohen who relentlessly chases spelling mistakes, Abbey Pinnola also known as Accounts Payable, the finance director and single mother of three and Oliver Ott, the young publisher who is as devoted to his dog Schopenhauer as most men would only be to their mother or vintage car. These three characters somehow spoke to me more than the others and I almost cried in the final chapter that features the young and hapless Ott.
Other chapters made my stomach hurt with the descriptions of loneliness and human tragedy, especially the ones about copy editor Ruby Zaga, who becomes someone else and much less happy, as soon as she comes to work, and Athur Gopal whose life changes in the blink of a moment.

This a beautiful novel, home of a range of stories that are like pearls on a string: every single one is beautiful and unique and together they are a piece of art.

Read it if: You long for a week in Rome. You always dreamt of working at an international newspaper.  You like literary fiction with a little more oomph!


  1. Oh, I agree with you about this book. Read it on vacation last year and it was such a treat--until I got to the final chapter and the dog scene, and then I wanted to both cry and hurl things at mean people.

  2. I know.. the last chapter was horrible and heart-wrenching. Just awful. It made me so so sad to read.

  3. I loved this book so much, it was such a shame the ending resulted to what they all predicted! I don't think I can re-read it after knowing how sad the ending was, but it was a wonderful book.