Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists, is a collection of stories that find common ground in an English-language newspaper, started in Rome in 1954, and focus on the various people associated with it. Each chapter centers around a single character at a specific point of crises in his or her life, and each of these stories could almost stand alone. The beauty of the novel, however, is that characters appear in more than one context and in more than one time period and from more than one perspective, creating a full sense of each person.
We meet managing editors, publishers, owners, young reporters, has-beens, wannabes, and copyeditors. And all the characters are indeed imperfect—some so flawed or naive that it's almost painful to meet them. There are, in fact, few people to like; yet there are many to root for, which makes the book somewhat sad but not depressing, The kernels of hope we find along the way, help take the edge off.
As we learn about each employee, we also learn about the newspaper and how it develops over some fifty-odd years. From newsprint and typesetters and street reporters to computerized layout and electronic filing, the changing rhythms and personality of the paper itself mirror those of the world at large.
Reading The Imperfectionists is almost like putting together a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. At first you see only a little bit, but as the novel progresses, you understand that the pieces interlink, extending chronologically and geographically, to create a picture that leaves you just a bit breathless.
I listened to the audio edition (Recorded Books) read by Christopher Welch, who perfectly guides listeners through the novel, helping us visualize the characters but giving us room for our own interpretations. My full audio review was published by AudioFile magazine.
For the audio version, see the buttons in the sidebar.
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