The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman


One year into her newspaper reading, she was six months behind. When they returned to Rome in the 1980s, she remained stranded in the late 1970s. When it was the 1990s outside, she was just getting to know President Regan. When planes struck the Twin Towers, she was watching the Soviet Union collapse. Today, it is February 18, 2007, outside this apartment. Within, the date remains April 23, 1994.

The Imperfectionists was an intriguing read to me, mostly because of the way it is presented. In each chapter of Tom Rachman’s novel, we get introduced to eleven characters; all connected to an unnamed international newspaper headquartered in Rome. In the chapters that read like short stories we have a Paris correspondent who is willing to cook-up a story for the front page to get paid, an obituary writer who becomes transformed after a personal tragedy, a business reporter who seems to have got a bad deal in life, a corrections editor who is a grammar nazi, an editor-in-chief who is attempting to reconnect with an ex-lover to get back at her cheating husband, a Cairo stringer who gets railroaded by an expert freeloader, a copy editor whose life seems glamorous to her relatives, a news editor who is afraid of being alone, a loyal reader who is determined to read all the articles the newspaper has ever published, a chief financial officer who hates her office nickname; “accounts payable”, and finally an indifferent publisher whose only friend is his dog.

… What truth? The paper is hardly at the cutting edge of technology – it doesn’t even have a website. And circulation isn’t increasing. The balance sheet is a catastrophe, losses mount annually, the readership is aging and dying off.

Tom Rachman reminds us with mediums such as television and internet, newspaper publishing has turned into a cutthroat industry. Competition is fierce and real, making it impossible for traditional newspapers to shy away from modern technology.

Having worked at the International Herald Tribune as an editor, Tom Rachman is not new to the life at newspapers. So a touch of reality is there in his depictions of the newsroom, may it be editorial meetings or afternoon rush to meet deadlines. Most of his newsroom characters have dysfunctional relationships, probably because of the toll their work have on them, but none of them are unlikable, and Tom Rachman’s sassy writing style makes this novel a fun read.


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