The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Posted: 16th November 2010 by Mister Critic in Random

Reviewed by Mister Critic

I predict, that “in the not-so-distant future, next Sunday A.D.,” you’ll have the following encounter with your children or your children’s children. Their inquiring minds will want to know, “What was a newspaper?” And you’ll struggle to remember, thinking back to the last time you had read a newspaper. Actually now that you think about it, you never technically read a newspaper. Skimmed, sure. Mostly you got them for the ads. Or the comics. Except for Ziggy. You hated Ziggy. His smug, little, self righteous…Ah, but you digress.

So how to put this in terms the children will understand? “You remember the Kindle, children? How it wasn’t in color like the Ipad? It was kinda like that.” A slight flash of recognition in their eyes will encourage you to continue. “See, a long time ago we used to ‘print’ our words on ‘paper.'” Now their faces turn to disgust. You are now no better than those weirdos who still don’t have smart phones. Maybe this will win them back: “And young boys and girls used to throw the papers at houses while trying to avoid obstacles like dogs and cars. It was celebrated in the ancient video game known as The Paperboy.” Nope.

Perhaps, you should talk of legends of the Newspaper industry like … like who? Muckrakers? William Randolf Hearst? J.Jonah Jameson of Spiderman fame? The guys who broke Watergate by getting info from someone nicknamed after a porno movie? I think not. Perhaps, you’d be better off showing them the latest 3-D remake of that Micheal Keaton movie, The Paper.

No, fear not, for now you can turn to The Imperfectionists.

In his first novel, Tom Rachman tells the story of a dying newspaper stationed in Rome. Each chapter is vignette of different characters connected to the paper, from the foreign corespondent to the guy who writes the obituaries.  Every chapter begins with a headline that is tied to the story of the character. We are treated to the romance and heartache that is the newspaper business. Rachman ties the individual character stories back to the history of the paper helping keep the focus and momentum of the novel moving forward rather than just a collection of random stories. These character studies go beyond just the life a newspaper, and instead exposing some parts of the human condition to which we can all relate.

I know for some readers this form of storytelling will be off-putting. My wife read the first chapter and once she learned that it shifted from character to character, she quickly lost interest. I would agree that the character study is so interesting that in each chapter you don’t want their story to end. So, I would have like to see more continuity in having the characters cross over more throughout the novel.

I have read that Brad Pitt’s production company has picked up the rights to turn this book into a movie.  I know exactly which character would be perfect for him to play.  I can totally see Pitt as the veteran journalist who uses his experience, fast paced dialogue and oozing charm to take advantage of a newbie foreign correspondent in Cairo. When I was reading this chapter, the character reminded me of past characters Pitt has portrayed, especially the guy from Twelve Monkeys.

Given all there is to discuss within this book, I recommend it as a good book club read. And it will be perfect fit for the time capsule when the kids come asking all those pesky questions about our old ways.