Book Review: The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman, 2010

This was a peculiar read – well written and easy to engage with the story and characters. Yet in the end I didn’t enjoy it because I felt the author didn’t want me to.

“The Imperfectionists” is a collection of vignettes of the lives of journalists, editors, and publishers of a Rome-based newspaper, based not so loosely on the International Herald Tribune. Rachman was an editor for that paper and manages wonderful detail to immerse the reader in the world of the international newsroom.

What Rachman also brings to the book, it seems, is some serious baggage. Each vignette, although nicely crafted, ends up punching the reader in the stomach with a burst of pathos or tragedy.

In each chapter, I found myself falling for his protagonist, cheering them on, and then watching them fall ‘splat’ into the cold, wet concrete of the Rachman’s  dark whimsy. Heck, he even has a dog murdered in one of the stories.

This is not to say that all stories should be happy. I’ve enjoyed many books with sad themes and failed characters (James Joyce, anyone?). But there is something relentlessly dark about this book that dulls the usual joy we get from reading.

Despite the gloom, Rachman’s is a very readable prose and his humor reminds me, at times, of Mordechai Richler. I’d like to read more from this author, but only after he’s had some therapy and accepted that the world can be a nice place, at least some of the time.

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