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review 2018-06-10 01:34
The Italian Teacher
The Italian Teacher - Tom Rachman

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman follows the trajectory of Charles “Pinch” Bavinsky's life as he perpetually tries to gain the approval and recognition of his father, world famous artist Bear Bavinsky. The magic of this book is that the characters feel so real. The book is pure fiction, but it feels as if it is a real story about real people. Also, no spoilers, but I love the unexpected ending. 

 

Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

Source: www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2018/06/the-italian-teacher.html
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review 2018-04-10 04:06
A Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man (and his son)
The Italian Teacher - Tom Rachman

I am going to say some nice things about this book, but the thing that kept going through my mind -- for at least the first two-thirds -- was: haven't I read this before? There are a couple of Richard Russo books hidden here, one Matthew Norman -- and I want to say DeLillo, Tropper and Weiner, too, but I can't put my finger on which of those -- and probably a few others that I don't recall. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- we've all read plenty of books that are just variations on well-established themes. What I had to ask myself was: did Rachman have anything new to say with his take? Did he throw in some interesting twists to the mix? Was it a rewarding experience for the reader? I think my answers were: not really, sort of, and not particularly.

 

The novel revolves around Bear Bavinsky, a painter of renown, an iconoclast, a rock star in a pre-rock star age -- and a serial monogamist on his second marriage when we meet him. He's essentially a Jeff Bridges character. His son, Charles (nicknamed Pinch) idolizes him (many of his children do, but Charles doesn't get over it the way most do).  Bear is mercurial, irresponsible, unfaithful, arrogant, and incredibly charming. Really, the difference between Rachman's Bear Bavinsky and Russo's Donald "Sully" Sullivan is that Bear has money (that's just to help you understand him, not a commentary on the character). When he turns on the charm, he can get seemingly anyone -- detractor, fan, or something in between -- to feel important, to feel pivotal, captivating, and so on. Most people shake off this effect after a couple of days (although they seem to hold on to a little bit of it for decades) -- Charles never does. He spends his life striving for his father's attention, favor, affection -- anything. He shapes his life around those things which will hopefully get Bear's approval -- and when he fails (or at least, doesn't succeed as he hopes) in the endeavor, and/or doesn't get Bear's approval he has a moment of clarity, stumbles into something else and then eventually falls back into the search for his Father's approbation.

 

Ironically, compared to the rest of Bear's kids, Charles has that approval. He just doesn't realize it -- and maybe it's because the rest have given up and don't seek him out as much. We follow Charles' life from childhood, to adolescence (living with a divorced mother now), in college, early adulthood and then in his 50s. Striving for significance, striving for something beyond his reach -- and yearning for his father. It's a decent, if lonely, life -- and could've been something better if he hadn't allowed so much of it to be shaped by his father, what Charles things his father wants, and then listening to his father's input when he really shouldn't.

 

As the jacket copy says, "Until one day, Pinch begins an astonishing plan that’ll change art history forever..." It stops being a book that I've read before (mostly), takes on its own flavor -- and gets worse. But your results may vary.

 

I thought Bear was an interesting character -- but not one I wanted to spend a lot of time with. I felt too much pity for Charles to really get invested in him. No one else in the book was really worth the effort. The story was unimpressive and oddly paced. Which is not to say it's a bad novel, it's just not one I could appreciate that much. There were conversations, scenes, etc. that were just great. I kept waiting for there to be a moment (probably the "Until one day...") that this book turned for me -- like Rachman's last one did -- and it never came.

 

Maybe it was just my mood, maybe it's my utter incapability of appreciating visual art, maybe it's actually Rachman stumbling. I don't know -- this just didn't work for me. Am I glad I read it? I think so -- if only because I don't have to wonder what the new Rachman book is like. I'm still giving it 3 stars because of the skill Rachman displayed -- I just didn't enjoy what he did with it.

 

<a href="http://angelsguiltypleasures.com/2018-library-love-challenge-review-link-ups/" target="_blank"><img class="aligncenter" style="border:none;height:auto;width:300px;" src="http://angelsguiltypleasures.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/2018LibraryLoveChallenge07-400x400-angelsgp.jpg" alt="2018 Library Love Challenge" /></a>

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2018/04/09/the-italian-teacher-by-rom-rachman
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review 2016-01-14 13:41
The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman

A collection of short stories, The Imperfectionists tells the stories of the men and women working for a struggling international English language newspaper in Rome. While the stories themselves are those of the contemporary employees ranging from the Editor in Chief to the obituary writer and accounts payable, the in-between moments are woven through with vignettes depicting the newspaper's history.

 

I was rather surprised by this collection. The author set out to write a character driven book, and he accomplished it. I appreciate that he did not go out of his way to make these men and women likable. Which is not to say they aren't, it is just very clear that his intent was to give the reader an inside look at real people, their insecurities, flaws, and imperfections. Too often authors fall into the trap of making their characters too black or white, either all good or all bad, resulting in a caricature of human nature. Rachman does not do that, and we instead wind up with a realistic glimpse into the lives of people who are no different than you or me.

 

While the story does advance to a definite conclusion, this book is not for the readef who needs their books to be plot driven. It is all about the people who reside in its pages. I also don't think it is for anyone who does not enjoy short stories. Once upon a time, I thought that was me. I have since realized that I was wrong. A short story done well can be every bit as enjoyable and complete as a novel. This collection does a fine job at doing exactly that. If you enjoy short stories and character portraits, then I would recommend you give this book a look.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-10-23 18:19
The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman

Striving for mediocrity and settling for less is how the characters in The Imperfectionists operate. A novel by Tom Rachman, it’s the story of an English language newspaper in Rome and the people who struggle to make it work.

We all know the fate of the newspaper industry today, but when Cyrus Ott started Corso Vittoria in the 1950s it had lots of potential. Mostly it had the potential to employ the woman he loved, (although not his wife), and to escape to Italy whenever he wanted to see her. Although starting this paper was a huge undertaking, the motive for it remained a secret, and for all its existence, it remained a sore spot of the Ott Empire. By the time a third generation Ott publisher was required, the family sent the lamest and least educated of Cyrus’ grandchildren to run the business. Even if Oliver had had some intelligence, he still had absolutely no interest in running the newspaper and ignored all phone calls from its employees. The operation had already been deemed a loss
anyhow.

Each chapter of this book focuses on the life of a different employee. To name a few, Kathleen Solson is the paper’s no-nonsense editor-in-chief whose solution to her husband’s marital affair is to have one of her own. Herman Cohen, the corrections editor, condemns even the slightest grammar offense at work, but will let mistakes slide at home. And Winston Cheung is so desperate for any journalism job that he accepts an audition to be the Cairo reporter and goes to the foreign city eager to please, only to be taken advantage of and miserable. All of the employees demand perfection at the office. All of them settle for less in every other aspect of their lives.

This was an interesting book from a character development perspective, and by development, I mean lack thereof. Mostly, they all just fear change. I think their patheticness is what makes them so relatable, because let’s face it… The reality is that we don’t always make the most rational decisions. I’d recommend this book for a healthy dose of realism, but not if you suffer from any sort of depressive disorder.

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review 2014-12-08 05:47
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel - Tom Rachman



The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman is the unusual story of Tooly Zylberberg, a young woman with an unclear past who owns a bookshop in the Welsh countryside.

Tooly’s story is unusual because she hasn’t had the most usual and common upbringing. As we read, we follow her journey trying to figure out how growing up on the move in many continents around the globe (Asia, Europe and America), surrounded by a complex variety of adults has made her the young woman she is now and find the answers that will bring closure to the unanswered questions of her past.

Tooly’s story is unusual also because of the way it was written. It is not your usual beginning, climax and happily ever after ending story. It is written in three different periods of Tooly’s life: her childhood (1988), her “college” years (1999), and her present (2011). And this is what made it hard for me to get into the story.

Tooly is a complex character to get to know. She may seem mysterious, guarded, reserved, shy and somehow a scared girl and young woman but at the same time even though she never went to school, she is intelligent, brave, wise beyond her years, extrovert, loyal, sentimental and friendly.

When I finished the book, I didn’t know if I liked her or not. Without giving much of the story away, I felt she got what she deserved because of the choices/decisions she took from a young age. 

She made the choice to leave her father and the life he gave her (the safety of a comfortable house and education). She didn’t suffer about it. She chose to stay with absolute strangers. She can’t blame her father for the rest of her life because she chose to not grow up with him.

(spoiler show)

But on the other hand I admired her ability to adapt to each situation. She just kept going, made the best of every situation, adapted and managed to survive. I don’t know if I would’ve managed that kind of life the way Tooly did.

Even though The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is about Tooly, and there are other important characters, for me the most memorable character was Humphrey. Regardless that this old Russian was an accomplice in Tooly’s unorthodox upbringing, it’s impossible not to care for this man and fall in love with what he did for Tooly.


The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman was not a fast paced read with all the going back and forth in time, but in the end, it is a story that reminds us that our family is not only conformed by those who share our blood. It reminded me of a Spanish saying: “Padre no es quien crea, sino quien cria” which means “A parent is not who makes you, but who raises you”. And also as corny as it sounds, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers reminds us that Home is where the heart is.

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is a good book for adults and book clubs. Read this story if you like stories that slowly unveil their layers by making you go back in forth in time. Don’t feel frustrated if you get stuck in the middle, keep going and you’ll see that in the end, despite all the hidden layers and complex characters The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is a story about family and love.

 

Buy on Amazon US

Buy on Amazon UK

 

Check out the complete review and my other musings on my blog.

 

DISCLOSURE STATEMENT
I received a copy of this book but was not financially compensated in any way nor obliged to review. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my personal experience while reading it. This post contains affiliate links.
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