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The Imperfectionists

Average Rating 3.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

Compelling Ensemble

WKRP in Cincinnati. It was a sitcom in the early 80s, I think? Without disparaging this work of literary fiction, I was somewhat reminded of that goofy little show. It was set in a radio station, but made memorable by the collective weirdness of every character in th...
WKRP in Cincinnati. It was a sitcom in the early 80s, I think? Without disparaging this work of literary fiction, I was somewhat reminded of that goofy little show. It was set in a radio station, but made memorable by the collective weirdness of every character in the ensemble cast. Each episode seemed to focus on one person's problem, usually humorous, and filled out with the other characters who rotated in significance per the episode.


In The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, there is a similar layout to the novel. Instead of a radio station, it's a daily newspaper in Rome, with mostly expats running the show. Often funny, sometimes bleak, the book moves along and introduces you to each character separately then shows them as part of the whole. No sight gags or corny humor like in WKRP, but a feeling of tolerable camaraderie between people thrown together and not especially liking it.

Richman doesn't use any cliches: there's no "Devil Wears Prada" evil boss, and even the most insignificant of copy editors has a life outside the newsroom that is a story in itself. That's why the novel is so fascinating. Without one single main protagonist, much more is in play that makes the story move. There's the obnoxious Snyder, who constantly travels to different war zones seeking a story, but remains oblivious to human tragedy. He decides that knowing different languages interferes with his objectivity, so all sources must speak English. Business editor Hardy, an intelligent female reporter who is so desperate for a companion that she finds a relationship with the loser Rory who robbed her apartment. Lloyd, who has no relationship with any of his children, and really nothing in his life of value, resorts to falsifying stories just to make a little money. And Dave, who enacts the perfect revenge on the accountant who fired him. Then there's the spell-check program that renames an important historical character "Sadism Hussein."

Finally, there's the love letter Ott wrote, never seen by his beloved: "I built and I built-heaven knows that I have done that well. Those skyscrapers, full of tenants, floor after floor, and not a single room containing you."

In all, Rachman creates these characters amid the underlying theme of a newspaper trying to make money in the age of the Internet. He contrasts the tactile importance a newspaper used to have with the overload of information online that can't even be grasped. Instead of lecturing about this relevant information, he shows how the newspaper changes in content over three generations of owners-the Ott family. This is a fun read, full of laughs but tender and meaningful too.

posted by SAHARATEA on August 23, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

14 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

Highly NOT recommended--don't check it out (unless from a library)

Absolutely hated this book. Hated every moment I spent reading it. Unfortunately, I hadn't fully decided that I hated it until I was about half way thru so I decided I may as well finish it. The writing was okay; it was well-written, competent. What I disliked about the...
Absolutely hated this book. Hated every moment I spent reading it. Unfortunately, I hadn't fully decided that I hated it until I was about half way thru so I decided I may as well finish it. The writing was okay; it was well-written, competent. What I disliked about the book was the format--each character has a separate chapter and all characters are connected by their having worked at the newspaper in Rome (which I don't think is ever given a name). Although I wasn't crazy about that format, it could have worked for me if not for the fact that every chapter followed basically the same format: every character is revealed in his/her personal life to be (almost always) a pathetic, disagreeable, unlikeable, unsympathetic person. Without fail. And while this person is revealed to have the most amazing character flaws, the "shock" ending or final reveal is always in the last few paragraphs. It was so formulaic that I came to expect this pattern: a) the character being focused on each chapter is probably some kind of jerk or pathetic loser and his/her flaw will be revealed in less than four pages, b)the last one or two paragraphs will reveal a final twist or revelation that you probably shouldn't see coming (although if you have half a brain and pay attention to the book, you should really expect it), and c)every revelation/twist is going to be something bad. I just hated this book. I don't see how writing a book that explores (in almost every chapter) the character flaws of these characters and is negative throughout makes this book "spectacular," "magnificent," or "beguiling." These are one-word reviews quoted on the cover of the paperback copy of this book I unfortunately spent my money on. This book is not all that interesting, the people are not so fascinating because Rachman doesn't give the reader enough time to know the characters--we just get brief, mostly disagreeable slices of their lives. Perhaps you have to be a journalist or be connected with the newspaper business in some way to enjoy and appreciate this book. I absolutely hated it and don't recommend it to anyone.

posted by KrisPA on February 6, 2011

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  • Posted February 6, 2011

    Highly NOT recommended--don't check it out (unless from a library)

    Absolutely hated this book. Hated every moment I spent reading it. Unfortunately, I hadn't fully decided that I hated it until I was about half way thru so I decided I may as well finish it. The writing was okay; it was well-written, competent. What I disliked about the book was the format--each character has a separate chapter and all characters are connected by their having worked at the newspaper in Rome (which I don't think is ever given a name). Although I wasn't crazy about that format, it could have worked for me if not for the fact that every chapter followed basically the same format: every character is revealed in his/her personal life to be (almost always) a pathetic, disagreeable, unlikeable, unsympathetic person. Without fail. And while this person is revealed to have the most amazing character flaws, the "shock" ending or final reveal is always in the last few paragraphs. It was so formulaic that I came to expect this pattern: a) the character being focused on each chapter is probably some kind of jerk or pathetic loser and his/her flaw will be revealed in less than four pages, b)the last one or two paragraphs will reveal a final twist or revelation that you probably shouldn't see coming (although if you have half a brain and pay attention to the book, you should really expect it), and c)every revelation/twist is going to be something bad. I just hated this book. I don't see how writing a book that explores (in almost every chapter) the character flaws of these characters and is negative throughout makes this book "spectacular," "magnificent," or "beguiling." These are one-word reviews quoted on the cover of the paperback copy of this book I unfortunately spent my money on. This book is not all that interesting, the people are not so fascinating because Rachman doesn't give the reader enough time to know the characters--we just get brief, mostly disagreeable slices of their lives. Perhaps you have to be a journalist or be connected with the newspaper business in some way to enjoy and appreciate this book. I absolutely hated it and don't recommend it to anyone.

    14 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Compelling Ensemble

    WKRP in Cincinnati. It was a sitcom in the early 80s, I think? Without disparaging this work of literary fiction, I was somewhat reminded of that goofy little show. It was set in a radio station, but made memorable by the collective weirdness of every character in the ensemble cast. Each episode seemed to focus on one person's problem, usually humorous, and filled out with the other characters who rotated in significance per the episode.


    In The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, there is a similar layout to the novel. Instead of a radio station, it's a daily newspaper in Rome, with mostly expats running the show. Often funny, sometimes bleak, the book moves along and introduces you to each character separately then shows them as part of the whole. No sight gags or corny humor like in WKRP, but a feeling of tolerable camaraderie between people thrown together and not especially liking it.

    Richman doesn't use any cliches: there's no "Devil Wears Prada" evil boss, and even the most insignificant of copy editors has a life outside the newsroom that is a story in itself. That's why the novel is so fascinating. Without one single main protagonist, much more is in play that makes the story move. There's the obnoxious Snyder, who constantly travels to different war zones seeking a story, but remains oblivious to human tragedy. He decides that knowing different languages interferes with his objectivity, so all sources must speak English. Business editor Hardy, an intelligent female reporter who is so desperate for a companion that she finds a relationship with the loser Rory who robbed her apartment. Lloyd, who has no relationship with any of his children, and really nothing in his life of value, resorts to falsifying stories just to make a little money. And Dave, who enacts the perfect revenge on the accountant who fired him. Then there's the spell-check program that renames an important historical character "Sadism Hussein."

    Finally, there's the love letter Ott wrote, never seen by his beloved: "I built and I built-heaven knows that I have done that well. Those skyscrapers, full of tenants, floor after floor, and not a single room containing you."

    In all, Rachman creates these characters amid the underlying theme of a newspaper trying to make money in the age of the Internet. He contrasts the tactile importance a newspaper used to have with the overload of information online that can't even be grasped. Instead of lecturing about this relevant information, he shows how the newspaper changes in content over three generations of owners-the Ott family. This is a fun read, full of laughs but tender and meaningful too.

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    An amazing debut novel from a surprisingly mature young writer.

    Alternately moving and comic, this novel is a series of vignettes connected by a common location, an English-language newspaper based in Rome. The end result is haunting. The debut novelist displays an unexpected understanding of his disparate characters, their lives and failed dreams. The newspaper itself provides a microcosm of publishing over the last fifty years, ending with the contemporary threats posed by the economy and the internet. A book to remember and to reread.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    INTERESTING!

    This novel, set in Rome, is focused on the personal lives of various news reporters, executives, copy editors, and a reader. Most of the characters dislike or even hate their jobs. We get a peek into their innermost feelings. Interesting! EXCITING!

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    masterfully crafted novel

    This book is hard to put down, because each chapter is a character sketch with such wit and originality -- and you're sure to know somebody just like that character. Or, at least you THINK they're just like that character! The author lets you listen in on their most personal (and often banal, though each person imparts his/her own twist) thoughts. A unifying thread running through what would otherwise be a short-story collection relates background history of the quirky international newspaper that serves as a common connection - from the motivation of its founder, then its heyday, to the declining influence of the print media in our time.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Superb Debut Novel

    Tom Rachman's debut novel is one of the best books I have read all of 2010 and thus far this year. Each of his chapters can be read alone and make absolute sense alone, yet is a work of wonder when put together. He defies all newbie pitfalls, writing as if this were is twenty-first best seller, rather than his first.

    He tells the story of an English-speaking newspaper established in Rome. The story weaves the past with the present seamlessly. He also brings the city of Rome to life as well. Each character has their own chapter to tell their story. By the end of the novel the reader will have a glimpse of the human toll it takes to run a newspaper in the twentieth century, including all the ups and downs changes in leadership can cause.

    This is such an engrossing novel that putting it down is near impossible as I read "just one more page." I was raised in a newspaper family and despite this was completely enthralled. I can not wait for Mr. Rachman's sophomore novel.

    NOTE: received book from publisher

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    "Meet the Press"

    Rachman is right on target depicting the characteristics of people in the newspaper business. He certainly has captured the nature of the profession & understanding of how the print media has suffered due to the internet. I loved the encounter on the plane between Abby,the financial officer, & the man she fired...so realistic with the mixed feelings that occur in any new relationship, but especially under these circumstances. Rachman has created an interesting mix of reality with the somewhat bizarre...of human nature. Now, add a touch of humor...a winning combo. A new author to watch out for.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 22, 2010

    What an outstanding book!

    After this book, I hope Tom Rachman writes another, but how can he top this one? This book is a delight to read - beautifully written, interesting, often witty and sometimes sad, intelligent, and touching. Delving beneath the surface of disparate lives connected by one newspaper in Rome. A masterful book.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Don't understand the hype

    When I first read the synopsis for this book I thought it sounded so interesting. Not only did I think the book sounded fun, but the rave reviews I read about this book further intrigued me.

    When I began reading the book, I was a bit confused. I thought it jumped into the middle of the story. I quickly learned that the first chapter was about an older freelance reporter who was quickly losing his reputation and work. Then we moved onto the next chapter and it was someone else.

    This book is told kind of in a series of short stories. Each chapter is about a different character, though sometimes a previous or subsequent character is mentioned in other chapters. In between each chapter, the reader is taken into the past to learn of the history behind the newspaper and its founder. These in between chapters start at the beginning of the paper and continue up to the present.

    Each chapter, or vignette, became increasingly more interesting. Some of them even left me at a cliffhanger. At one point, I wanted so desperately to find out what happened to that particular character (Hardy) that I looked to the Table of Contents to find out when I would learn more of her story. Come to find out that's all she got. One chapter! So I held out hope that things would be wrapped up nicely at the end of the book and we would find out what happened to all of these people and the stories I had learned.

    Unfortunately, things with this book just kept getting worse and worse. The stories of these people's lives kept getting more depressing. The paper just kept losing more and more money. And my hope for a happy ending kept diminishing.

    When I did finally finish the book, I was pretty annoyed. There was no wrap up. I never found out what happened to Hardy or any of the other crazy things that happened with these people. Each story did intrigue me and get me interested in the character's lives...but then I was left out in the cold. I only got partial stories. There was a small wrap up at the end of the book, but nowhere near what I wanted.

    At this point, I don't see the point of this book. I have no idea why the reviews are so awesome for this novel or the author. Sure, his writing style is good and the character development is good...but what's the point in getting invested in someone, just to have the door slammed in your face without finding out how things work out?

    All in all, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who likes things tied up neatly at the end. You won't get that with this book. Actually, I'm not really sure I would recommend this book to anyone at all. I'm beyond annoyed and feel as though I wasted my time and money on this book.

    However, if anyone has read and enjoyed this book, I would love to know what I'm missing...because I just don't see the point. I gained nothing from this reading experience and that makes me sad.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 27, 2011

    great up until the last chapter

    This book is very clever in introducing each character as their own short story, then weaving those characters throughout the book. I was loving this book until a shocking event happens near the end that was very disturbing.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Will make my top ten list for all time

    Fab read: compelling, brilliantly crafted, perfect novel from start to finish. Loved every page.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2011

    Do not waste you time.

    Boring to read. Our book club decided it was a dud.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 25, 2011

    Great Book.

    I really enjoyed this book, it is a very quick qnd easy read. Very creative for hos first book, can't wait for his next.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2011

    What's all the fuss?

    The book is well written, but the characters, while well drawn, are hardly worthy of memorializing in a book. These people have nothing to recommend them. Although the setting is Rome, Italy, there is really no sense of being in this foreign country. It could have been Paris, Texas or Columbus, Ohio.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2011

    Well-written, but not for me

    Life is heavy enough that when I turn to fiction, I am searching for entertainment, a reprieve. This book is most definitely not that. While I understand that Rachman was trying to generate sympathy for the characters in the reader, I found this book very hard to enjoy as there is no redemption of any kind for any of the characters. Furthermore, like the other reviewer, I found the last scene shocking and entirely unnecessary. I don't think I'll be recommending this book to anyone.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2010

    When you finish a book and realize it will have a lasting effect upon how you think about human behavior, you know it was a good book. This was a good book.

    The cover of the paperback actually makes you think of the frenzy of the newsroom with the quotes of the reviewers and the pictured stack of tied up newspapers. I thought it was really well designed. The hard cover does not have the same effect since the quotes are missing. Since I have both copies, I feel I can tell you I prefer the look of the paperback.
    This interesting little novel explores all of life's human foibles and frailties in an exaggerated fashion, as it develops various characters in the print industry. Although it exposes the many levels of deceit, subterfuge, compromise, withdrawal, manipulation etc., that humans will sink to when driven by "need" for perhaps revenge, greed, survival, loss, loneliness, hopelessness and helplessness etc., and I was surprised to find them sympathetic, even in their desire to exploit others, in order to make up for their own shortcomings, laziness and insecurities. They disappointed me with their choices and behavior and I did not find them likeable. The characters were often pathetic examples of human beings and it was hard to read some of the chapters because they were capable of such cruelty, at the same time as they seemed loving and gentle. Many seemed unprepared for life and unwilling to learn how to live in a better way. They seemed to accept mediocrity as a standard.
    Each character is separately examined in its own chapter, although all are linked in the end as they march onward in their drive to develop as "losers", imperfect human beings. Perhaps the message is that we are all imperfect in our own way but I wish I had been left with more hope for the improvement of the species!
    In order to feel successful or accepted, rather than work toward perfection as a goal, "making it" in a positive way, the characters often sacrificed those that loved them and respected them the most, in order to be with selfish, often unscrupulous, dishonest and unmotivated individuals. They wished to satisfy their own desires and achieve their often, undesirable ends regardless of the cost!
    I did find the number of different characters to be a problem, at times, because there were so many and they were sometimes only incidentally connected. The author made me constantly ask myself the question, "Should the individual's happiness be the only goal and end result, regardless of the consequence for others"? Can we actually aspire to and achieve perfection or at least, a better way to live and work in the world without hurting or abusing others, without totally disregarding the effect of our actions upon others? The book makes you stop and think about human behavior and when you turn the last page, it will leave its mark upon you.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2011

    Recommend, with reservations

    Although the story is a bit dark, the novel is well crafted. Rachman explores the idea that "life moves on and unless one moves forward with it one is left behind". Each character's individual story reflects this overlying theme of being "stuck at some point in the past". The newspaper for which they all work is also unwilling to embrace the technological present and eventually dies. Interesting novel. Well written.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2011

    Highly recommend

    I discovered this book through my book club. I love the way Tom Rachman writes. Clever, and honest. Interesting characters developed with insight and sympathy.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2011

    Not recommended

    What am I missing? This book had rave reviews and I find it boring and lacking in "beguilness"!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 9, 2014

    ¿What I really fear is time. That¿s the devil: whipping us on wh

    “What I really fear is time. That’s the devil: whipping us on when we’d rather loll, so the present sprints by, impossible to grasp, and all is suddenly past, a past that won’t hold still, that slides into these inauthentic tales. My past – it doesn’t feel real in the slightest. The person who inhabited it is not me. It’s as if the present me is constantly dissolving.”
    The Imperfectionists is the first novel by British-born journalist and author, Tom Rachman. Set in late 2006 and early 2007, each of eleven chapters is like a vignette of the lives of particular characters who are, in some way, associated with the Rome-based International English-Language newspaper that was founded in 1953 by successful Atlanta businessman, Cyrus Ott. The alternate chapters detail significant events in the newspaper’s history. 
    While the main plot is straightforward: the creation and eventual demise of the publication; there is a myriad of sub-plots involving the various characters, so that each of those chapters is almost a short story itself, involving some characters from the other chapters. This is reminiscent of Rohinton Mistry’s Swimming Lessons (Tales from Firosha Baag). 
    Rachman gives the reader a cast of quirky characters: a mild-mannered obituary writer whose superior shows such a lack of compassion at his personal tragedy that it elicits a vengeful response; a business editor who finds herself forsaking friends, family and her own values so as not to be single; a young stringer stranded in Cairo with no idea of how to report; a corrections editor who finally learns the truth about an idolised friend; a dying writer resigned to her fate; a jaded Paris correspondent reaching desperation point; a reluctant young heir whose closest relationship is with his basset hound; a faithful reader who lives in the past, avoiding a certain fateful day; a publisher who founds a paper for the sake of unrequited love; a dreary news editor who forces his own worst fear to eventuate; an editor-in-chief who looks for a lover and finds a much-needed friend; a copy editor who feels excluded, persecuted and on the brink of redundancy; and a financial officer whose unwise decision sees her humiliated. 
    Rachman involves his characters in the petty politics, conflicts and occasional charitable acts that make up a busy workplace and comprise everyday life. He gives them words of wisdom: “We enjoy this illusion of continuity and we call it memory. Which explains, perhaps, why our worst fear isn’t the end of life, but the end of memories” and ‘Nothing in all civilisation has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshipped by man.” He gives them throw away lines: “Journalism is a bunch of dorks pretending to be alpha males” and “I suspect that revenge is one of those things that’s better in principle than in practice…there’s no real satisfaction in making someone else suffer because you have”
    This novel is often funny, sometimes sad, and the reader will be moved to reflect on the ultimate fate of print newspapers in today’s world. A brilliant debut. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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