Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, 2010

It is said that Indian journalists often dream of writing the Great Indian Novel, which must hold true for journalists across the world—graduating from mundane news reporting to writing a cracking novel, and earning fame and some money. Few journalists in India have realised that dream; most others, like me, keep dreaming in the hope that one day they will wake up to their own dazzling debut—written, published, sold, read, and reviewed by the dozens.

© www.tomrachman.com
Tom Rachman, the British-born journalist and author, realised his dream with panache when, in 2010, at the young age of 36, he wrote his first book, The Imperfectionists, which has resulted in a tide of favourable reviews. Four years later, Tom published The Rise & Fall of Great Powers which I'm waiting to read. Clearly, there is no stopping Tom. I’m glad he is a fellow journalist. More fiction to his pen.

The Indian journalist and newsroom, I’d assume, is different from its counterparts in, say, New York or London, owing to culture, tradition, environment, and even language. Yet, if you happen to be a journalist and if you read Tom’s debut novel about a nameless newspaper set in Rome and elsewhere, you’ll see they are not dissimilar.

The journalists and the assorted staff on the rolls of the international newspaper in Rome are a lot like those in any Indian morninger, even if they work for different mastheads and eccentric newspaper barons. I found the similarities nowhere more conspicuous than in the personal prejudices and beat experiences of the staff, both seasoned and untested, and how it affects their lives, usually for the worse, as well as in the gossipy and politicised atmosphere of the newsroom.

In The Imperfectionists, Tom introduces us to a host of animated characters from top to bottom—from founder-publisher Cyrus Ott lording over his empire from Atlanta; to editor-in-chief Kathleen Solson who puts up a brave front at the newspaper and in her crumbling marriage; to head of finance Abbey Pinnola cryptically known as Accounts Payable; to corrections editor Herman Cohen waiting to pounce on grammatical errors; to copy editor Ruby Zaga, insecure and never happy at work; to poor Winston Cheung who desperately wants the stringer position in Cairo.

© www.tomrachman.com
This is the story of all of these and other characters, including one peculiar reader, whose personal lives are linked to the fate and fortune of their newspaper. It is both happy and sad, funny and sober, and all quite intriguing. Much as I dislike using the word in the context of a review, Tom Rachman’s writing style is beautiful, and refreshing. If you have been a journalist, The Imperfectionists will resonate with you at once. In that it is my kind of a debut novel.

The only problem I have with the book is that it is all a bit of an anticlimax: Tom develops each story, each character, really well and just when you brace yourself for something to happen, he snatches it away from you. It leaves you kind of disappointed but, I guess, it works for the imperfectionists. I anticipated how the novel would end because I have been there before. Highly recommended.


Note: Moira and Patti reviewed The Imperfectionists on their blogs Clothes In Books and Pattinase, respectively.

18 comments:

  1. I once had dreams of writing the great American Novel. They didn't last very long.

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    1. Charles, I hope to write and publish something if not the great Indian novel.

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  2. My favorite is not a novel but Woodward and Bernstein's ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.

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    1. Ron, I have been meaning to read the Woodward-Bernstein book for many years. Thanks for reminding me about it.

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  3. Prashant, glad you enjoyed it, but I don't think it will make it onto my reading list.

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    1. Col, THE IMPERFECTIONISTS would be of interest to people in media though others would like the way Rachman has drawn the characters.

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  4. Thanks for bringing this writer to my attention, Prashant.

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    1. David, you are welcome. I have a feeling you will like this book.

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  5. I loved this book and I have given it or recommended it to many people. But because it's rather like short stories I can see how some people would be dissatisfied.

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    1. Patti, I agree, the short story format of the novel may not appeal to all readers. While the stories have nothing in common, each one exposes us to the workings of a newspaper and the people behind it.

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  6. Not got this one yet Prashant but really enjoyed your take on it - I think i sahll succumb, despite the slightly disappointing ending (that's so often the way I find ...)

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    1. Sergio, thank you. It's a different kind of novel and one that I hadn't read in a long time. While it is a fictional account of a newspaper in Rome, it can be dubbed as nonfiction too depending on how you look at it.

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  7. Rachman is very popular with my students. I haven't read any of his books, but my students rave about them.

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    1. George, I think THE IMPERFECTIONISTS has become popular because of Rachman's unconventional writing style and the way he handles the theme of a working newspaper and the lives of its employees.

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  8. Thanks for the shoutout Prashant - yes I loved this book, it was so funny and well-observed, with a faint atmosphere of sadness. And resonated with anyone who has ever worked as a journalist.

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    1. Moira, you are welcome. By the time I was through the fourth story I was asking myself, "Don't good things happen to any of the main characters?" I found the book realistic in many ways and certainly enjoyed Rachman's take on the newspaper world.

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  9. This author sounds interesting. The setting and the structure of this book could be good. I will keep an eye out for it.

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    1. Tracy, you'll like this book as you like to try out different authors and different kinds of books.

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