Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

In 1953, the millionaire Cyrus Ott, head of a large corporation with far-flung interests, comes to Rome to make a proposition.  His former lover, Betty, now lives in Rome with her husband Leo.  Cyrus suggests that he will found a daily newspaper in the city and leave it to Betty and Leo to run it as editors.  They agree and the newspaper is founded.

Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists, follows this newspaper over the next fifty years along with the lives of the many people who make up the work force that creates a daily newspaper.  He structures the novel so that each person gets a chapter that shows his life, both at work and at home.  Each character ties to the other people at the newspaper, yet each remains separate.  This is the way of corporations and most large enterprises.  Each individual has their own agenda yet somehow, if lucky, these agendas are chained together to create a complete structure which none could have done alone.

Along with the short glimpses into individual private lives, Rachman portrays the dying days of the newspaper.  This is a fate that seems to be inevitable for most newspapers as readers' expectations are for instant information which they can get on the television news channels and the news on various Internet outlets.  There is little time for the leisurely exploration of topics that newspapers were able to create in years past.  The Ott corporation forgets about the newspaper in Rome, with few visits or inquiries from the home headquarters, and the newspaper is left to flounder and lose its way.

Rachman has done an impressive job.  His own background is as a journalist and an editor on foreign newspapers, so he knows the territory he writes about.  His slice-of-life vignettes are cunningly constructed to shed light on individual lives while typing them together to make a united whole.  This book is recommended for readers interested in modern fiction and for those interested in the writing industry.

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