Bookbyte: The Imperfectionists

Rachman's DebutRachman’s debut novel is a compelling read, although it’s less a novel than a loosely connected series of short stories. There is no over-arching plot. Each story centers around a different person working for (or reading) a dying English-language newspaper in Rome.

In fact, the best way to describe the novel is like a newspaper itself. Forget generic human interest stories, which provide a glossy, manipulative look into the private lives of normal people. Reader’s Digest this ain’t. Rachman’s tales get to the true heart of the human condition: stark, fragile, and desperate for love and for connection. But they all remain relatively isolated from one another.

Ornella de Montericchi, a reader of the newspaper, “never learned the techniques of newspaper reading, so took it in order like a book. She read every article and refused to move on until she was done.” This book can be read like a newspaper too. Skip around if you want, skip entire stories if the person doesn’t interest you (lonely business reporter Hardy Benjamin is a particular snoozer), re-read the tales of the people who do (such as the tragic story of family man Arthur Gopal or pathetic Cairo stringer Winston Cheung trying to break into the big world journalism).

Many of the stories are bleak. Some are downright cruel. Rachman shows that life is fleeting, just like the newspaper industry itself. Maybe we can leave an imprint on the world, even if it is just an ink stain on someone’s fingertips. Even that will eventually wash away.

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