Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

"The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman (Quercus, 2010)

The book's been much reviewed. It's unclear to me why. It's described as a novel. Alternate chapters that are in italics (short; 2 or 3 pages) describe the history of an English-language, Rome-based newspaper from 1953 to 2007. The other chapters (almost short stories) usually feature a journalist. Characters appear in each other's chapters. The final main chapter is from the last owner's viewpoint. The final short chapter gives a concluding paragraph to each of the main individuals. With such books it's tempting to assess each chapter in isolation. They vary in tone from sad almost to farce. In Arthur Gopal's chapter a reporter gets phone calls while interviewing a dying writer for her obituary. Later we surmise that the phone calls told him that his young daughter had suddenly died. In Herman Cohen's chapter an old friend visits and lives are compared. Events shift to Cairo for the broader comedy of Winston Cheung's chapter.

Snyder points at the bustling crowd. "Get that chick."
"What chick?"
"The one in that coat thing."
"The burka, you mean?"
"Get her, big guy. We need man-on-the-street quotes."
"But a woman in a burka? Couldn't I do man-on-the-street with a man on the street?"
"That is so racist."


"Did you meet any terrorists?"
"The real deal, bro." He pauses. "Not full-on Qaeda. But they're way up the waiting list."
"There's an application process?"
"Totally. OBL is whacked that way."
"Who's OBL?"
"Osama," he replies. "I don't know him that good. We only met, like, twice. Back in Tora Bora. Good times."
"What's he like?"
"Tall. That's what hits home most. If he hadn't taken a wrong turn, maybe a career in professional sports. That's the tragedy of this conflict - so much talent wasted. Whatever..."


"Kooks with Nukes" succeeds best as a short story - a clear story-line, lots of local color, and newsroom atmosphere.

The senior editors call Kathleen on her mobile to discuss page one. They put her on speakerphone so everyone can go on record endorsing her, then hang up and mock her, as if to cleanse the air of their sycophancy

Infidelity, repeated phone-calls and sudden scene changes appear in several stories; between one paragraph and the next we might switch from the middle of a meal to the next morning.

Maybe there's a typo on p.272 - "Finally, this book would be incomplete without the inclusion of my favorite short story, Alessandra Rizzo, whose patience ..."

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