The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I discovered The Imperfectionists while perusing the Indie Bestseller List from the American Booksellers Association website (, which is a wonderful resource for finding great new books. The title grabbed me immediately. I was instantly curious—who are these imperfectionists? A thoughtful write-up provided a glimpse of the story line which intrigued me further.

I was not disappointed. I absolutely loved this read and still cannot believe this is a debut novel. I found it clever, different, and enjoyable. What more can a reader ask for?

In 1953, a self-made American millionaire named Cyrus Ott travels from Georgia to Italy to establish an English-language newspaper in Rome. He knows nothing about journalism and nothing about running an international newspaper. His dream borders on obsession and his motivation raises eye-brows from the beginning. He convinces an expatriate journalist whom he is acquainted with to join his team, along with her husband, and the motley crew launches the paper on its odyssey. 

The book chronicles the paper’s fifty-year existence—from its idealistic beginnings through its adolescent years and beyond—documenting its changes along the way. The changes are as mundane as the installation of new carpets in the newsroom during the 70’s, to those that are massively disruptive, like the birth of the Internet in the 90’s. We are introduced to the world of international journalism and learn how this world and its people function (more like dysfunction). For those of us on the outside, it’s fascinating to look inside.   

Juxtaposed against the paper’s timeline are scintillating vignettes devoted to the individuals charged with bringing the paper to life each day; people with job titles like  correspondent, obituary writer, copy editor, even the dreaded “Accounts Payable.” Read separately, these are exquisite short stories that easily stand on their own for all their richness. When viewed as an ensemble, the exposés backfill the main story in a way that can only be described as sublime. These are intimate portrayals of the underbelly of humanity—fractured idealism, raw vengeance, our Darwinian desire to win at all costs. In the darkness of it all, we get glimpses of light—humor, healing, forgiveness, perseverance. Life goes on, no matter how imperfect it is.

I found The Imperfectionists savory and authentic, like a hearty minestrone soup that leaves you completely satisfied.

After completing the book, I wanted to learn more about The Dial Press, its publisher. The Dial Press was founded in 1924, a fortuitous birth for it was able to play a part in the Modernist movement within the American canon of Literature (among its original authors were folks like D.H. Lawrence and e.e. Cummings). This venerable press went dormant for decades, but was reinvigorated by Random House, one of the “Big Six” houses here in the United States. The press remains small and continues the original mission of publishing unique fiction and non-fiction, quality books that can stand out among the thousands of titles that are published every year in America. I am now delving further into its list because I’m confident there are more great reads at The Dial Press.

While researching The Dial Press I learned that The Imperfectionists received a glowing front-page review in The New York Times, the equivalent of winning the literary lottery. This earned the novel a stint on The New York Times bestseller list. If you think you might read The Imperfectionists, you may want to skip this review. It reads more like a CliffsNotes version of the book. It discloses way too much about the story and would ruin the amazing journey that is this book!


About onequietvoice

I work in the publishing industry where I focus on developing print and digital products for technology professionals. I am interested in literacy and technology and how the two can coexist to impact our culture in meaningful ways. I am passionate about preserving the public library system in our country.
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