Books Journalism

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

This novel is a deceptively charming slice of life at an English-language newspaper in Rome. It cuts back and forth between profiles of the people who work there today — the obit writer, the copy editor, the Paris correspondent — and a history of the paper’s founding to its hey-dey to its current decline.

If you have a nostalgic love for newspapers, you should read this. The characters are fascinating and funny, from the wheedling business reporter who’s a fool for love to the obit writer who decides to claw his way to the top. But know that things will not end well. The newspaper doesn’t even have a website, and the owners are tired of pouring money into a hole.

One thing that nagged, though, is I felt like the author had a slight mean streak toward his characters that seemed to become decidedly more cruel as the novel moved toward its end. Not to give away too much, but the chapters got darker — a girlfriend’s betrayal, the macabre death of a dog — as things went along.

Then later, I was thinking, maybe that meanness is meant to parallel the demise of the newspaper. Maybe the author’s making the point that it’s a mean world that no longer has a place for an eclectic, old-fashioned expat newspaper. At least that was my interpretation.

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