Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The Imperfectionists, the debut novel by Tom Rachman, is my favorite book of the year so far. It's just brilliant! I must admit that the first thing that drew me to this novel was its title, The Imperfectionists. I thought it was so unique and I loved the cover. I wondered what it was about so I did some research and I knew I had to read it if only for how this young writer was so determined to write his first novel. I was sold after reading his account below.
Rachman recounts, "I took my life savings and moved to Paris, where I knew not a soul and whose language I spoke only haltingly. Solitude was what I sought: a cozy apartment, a cup of tea, my laptop. I switched it on. One year later, I had a novel. And it was terrible.
My plan – all those years in journalism--had been a blunder, it seemed. The writing I had aspired to do was beyond me. I lacked talent. And I was broke.
Dejected, I nursed myself with a little white wine, goat cheese and baguette, then took the subway to the International Herald Tribune on the outskirts of Paris to apply for a job. Weeks later, I was seated at the copy desk, composing headlines and photo captions, aching over my failure. I had bungled my twenties. I was abroad, lonely, stuck.
But after many dark months, I found myself imagining again. I strolled through Parisian streets, and characters strolled through my mind, sat themselves down, folded their arms before me, declaring, "So, do you have a story for me?"
I switched on my computer and tried once more. This time, it was different. My previous attempt hadn't produced a book, but it had honed my technique. And I stopped fretting about whether I possessed the skill to become a writer, and focused instead on the hard work of writing. Before, I had winced at every flawed passage. Now, I toiled with my head down, rarely peeking at the words flowing across the screen. I revised, I refined, I tweaked, I polished. Not until exhaustion--not until the novel that I had aspired to write was very nearly the one I had produced--did I allow myself to assess it. To my amazement, a book emerged."
Tom Rachman is a former journalist who's worked in New York, Asia, Rome and Paris. He took elements of his experiences and turned it into a novel set in Rome with a varied cast of characters, most of whom work for an unnamed English language newspaper. Each chapter reads like a short story with each one focusing on a particular character. To name a few - there's Lloyd, the Paris correspondent who's past his prime. Abby, or as she's called by the staff, 'Accounts Payable,' who on a transatlantic flight, finds herself seated next to the person she just fired. Winston, the naive Cairo stringer who competes for a job with the manipulative Snyder. These are just some of the varied cast of characters in the book. They're all imperfect people, some more imperfect than others. While they struggle with their own personal demons, the paper's existence is threatened by a dwindling readership and the advancement of other forms of media.
I absolutely loved Rachman's writing which transported me to modern day Rome. Though we only meet each character for a short time, Rachman gives them a surprising amount of depth and realism. The dialogue is witty and sometimes funny and the scenarios are engaging with some unexpected twists. The book covers a wide array of themes such as life, death, love, ambition, loneliness. It's truly amazing that this is Rachman's first book. It's difficult to say which chapter I liked more because each one was riveting in its own way. There are also intervening vignettes of how the paper was first formed in the 50s by an American entrepreneur, Cyrus Ott, who has his own story to tell. The stories are either comic, tragic or both.
The Imperfectionists is a marvelous find and I'm so looking forward to what Rachman will produce next but this will definitely be a very hard act to follow. There is a line in the book where a character reacts to a painting: " (The artist) flubbed it, not simply because his human forms were inept but because the human form can never be rendered beautiful." Imperfection is what makes people more interesting so though it deals with flawed characters, I thought The Imperfectionists was actually a perfect novel.