UPDATE: It seems we’re not the only ones to enjoy this book. Brad Pitt’s film company has now bought the movie rights…Well done Mr Rachman!
Tom Rachman’s Rome-based novel ‘The Imperfectionists’ is starting to attract a lot of attention now it has been released in the U.S, but despite his hectic promotion schedule, Rachman has agreed to share with us a few of his secrets and recommendations for your next visit to the Eternal City.
The novel is based around a fading English language newspaper. Chapter by chapter we are introduced to eleven characters who all have some kind of involvement with the paper – from its editor, to foreign correspondents, an obsessive sub-editor, and even the obituary writer. They all depend on the paper in some way, even if their private lives are falling apart and their futures look uncertain.
The characters are extremely well-drawn and the style of the novel means we have to get to know them pretty much instantly – but they are some wonderful people to become acquainted with. It would be a challenge to name my favorite, but I’d probably end up tossing a coin between poor old hardworking news editor Menzies and the foreign correspondent from hell, Rich Snyder (really, you have to read the novel for yourself – I couldn’t possibly describe how obnoxious this man is!) .
My only complaint…I want to know more. As you get to the end of a chapter, you know it may very well be the last you see of that character, and it is with a bit of a sad heart that you turn the page to meet the next one. Each and every one of them would be worthy of a book in their own right, and I suppose we will just have to wait and see whether Rachman will bring any of them back in future novels.
From a Packabook perspective, at about half way through the novel I was worried we weren’t going to see as much of Rome as I would have liked, but in the second half there were lots of glimpses of the city. From the garden bar at the Hotel de Russie to the Piazza San Salvatore and the narrow sidewalks that follow the Tiber. For someone who is about to travel to the city, this would be a great read to take with you.
Let’s hear a bit more about Rome from our chat with Canadian-raised Rachman who first fell in love with Italy on a family holiday when he was 12, and was dispatched there as a journalist when he was 28. These days, he shares his time between Rome and London…..
Packabook – “What made you decide to set the novel in Rome?”
Rachman – I suppose because I knew the city well — it existed in my imagination, although I wrote the book when living in Paris. Also, I wanted to write about the life of the expat. I have been one for many years and find its culture amusing and intriguing. A novel about journalists living abroad seemed to fit the bill!
Packabook – “How did you choose the particular locations you did?”
Rachman – The characters all live in different areas of the city — Trastevere, Monteverde, Testaccio and so on. Those who know Rome will recognize that these are quarters where expats live. Certain locations come from my life there — in particular, when a character is described as wandering down particular streets, you can bet that these are routes I myself have often strolled.
Packabook – “What are the top three must-dos for someone traveling to Rome?”
Rachman – It’s such a visited city that it’s hard to answer this without sounding like the first page of any tourist guide. But here goes: 1) I continue to find the Colosseum and the Forum astonishing and worthwhile; 2) the Vatican and its museum offer another still-influential layer of Italian culture; and 3) most important of all, in my view, I suggest that people walk and walk and walk. Within the center of town, one finds a network of the most stunning, opulent, decadent alleys and palazzi. Simply wandering and admiring the surroundings is perhaps my greatest pleasure in Rome.
Packabook – “And how about one that is really off the beaten track? A hidden secret?”
Rachman – Chiostro del Bramante, a museum near Piazza Navona, contains a marvelous upstairs cafe hidden within gorgeous cloisters and frescoes. For some reason, despite its central location, the cafe is typically empty. Make sure you sit outside on the tiny seats nestled in the cloisters themselves. A delightful spot for a cool drink away from the tourist-clogged squares of central Rome during the summer.
Packabook- “Any other favourite cafes or restaurants you recommend?”
Rachman – Caffe Doria, on the ground floor of the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, makes superb coffee and offers wonderful service, which cannot be said of many bars and eateries in the city. For traditional Roman cuisine, eat at La Matricianella; for a charming (if pricey) lunch spot, try Casa Bleve.
Packbook – “Any thoughts on where you will set your next novel?”
Rachman – Yes, but I’m afraid I can’t say — I’m a bit secretive about my writing when I’m in the middle of it. Suffice to say that this one will be international, too!
Thanks Tom for your suggestions, and we look forward to where that next novel will take us! In the meantime, grab yourself a copy of ‘The Imperfectionists’ and imagine you are reading it in the beautiful garden bar of the Hotel de Russie…
P.S. Why not head over to Packabook’s main site to find yourself some more books set in Italy and immerse yourself in some other wonderful Rome-based novels.
One of the best ways to keep an eye on current trends in literature is to take careful note of what people are reading on your daily commute.
I live in London – and it takes over an hour each way for me to travel to work and back. And while I often wish I hadn’t somehow ended up living at the opposite end of the city from the office, one thing it does do is give me some dedicated reading time each day.
AND it gives me plenty of snooping time.
I just can’t help having a good look around the train (or Tube, as we Londoners say) and check out what everyone else is reading. And if you do it often enough, you will see there are definite trends.
I remember a few years back I couldn’t get in a carriage without seeing at least one person glued to their copy of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. That was then followed by a long spell of people reading one of my favourite novels of all time The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – making me want to sit down and have a good chat with them about it, which as anyone will tell you is a definite no-no on the London Underground. Friendly conversation is much frowned upon!
But lately the clear winner in the ‘Reading on the Tube’ stakes is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. While I enjoy the odd crime novel it is rarely at the top of my To Read list, but after seeing Dragon Tattoo three times on one journey this week, I fear I couldn’t ignore the signs any longer. I have just placed my order with Amazon.
I will let you know if it lives up to its promise once I have devoured it.
But perhaps the most heartening picture to emerge from this extensive and highly scientific study of Tube Reads is that they are all great examples of Packabook books – those that transport us to another land. The Da Vinci Code gives us Paris, Shadow of the Wind takes us to Barcelona, and Dragon Tattoo sends us off to Sweden.
Is there some connection between foreign countries and what people like to read on trains I wonder? Does being crammed into a crowded carriage with hundreds of other commuters make us crave escape to somewhere exotic?
If you too would like to find great novels set in foreign lands then head over to our gorgeous collection at Packabook’s main site. Just click on the country of your choice and you will soon be far, far away…
I am off to read in the sunshine….
P.S. If you have read Dragon Tattoo we’d love to hear your thoughts. Let us know if it lives up to all the attention it has been getting…
Celebrating all things literary, around 200 bookshops stay open until midnight and there are workshops and performances by artists, writers and musicians.
And not only do you have all the fun of the nocturnal delights on offer, there is also a ten percent discount off any books you buy.
In a time when we are constantly hearing the cry that books and bookshops have a limited lifespan, it is a joy to see just how lively the literary scene is around the world – and that cities everywhere are coming up with initiatives to engage their citizens with reading.
So while you and I may be struggling to make it to Madrid in time for the Night of the Books on the 23rd of April – that doesn’t mean we can’t use this fine event as an excuse to pick up a book or two set in Spain, and settle down with our novels – and a glass of Sangria – to mark the occasion!
Head over to our main site to check out the great books we have selected for you that are set in Spain and immerse yourself in a little bit of Spanish life…
Karl Marlantes is a former marine who, in 1977, wrote a novel inspired by his time in combat in Vietnam. Thirty-three years later Matterhorn is finally hitting the shelves.
The book was rejected over and over again, and as the years passed, suggestions made that Marlantes should change the location to feature more modern conflicts – The Gulf War or Afghanistan. But eventually, after persistence and some recommendations to publishers, it has now been released to great acclaim. Some reviewers have gone as far as saying it could well be the ‘Book of the Year’.
If you are looking for a novel that portrays the realities of war in Vietnam, you could do much worse than pick up a copy of Matterhorn.
Reviewers say the detail of Marlantes’s writing places readers firmly in the jungle highlands of South-East Vietnam. Centered on the experience of Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas and his Bravo Company we are right alongside them as they face their fears of combat and the harshness of the jungle conditions.
I am not a great lover of war stories – for me, I just want to know who wins and who loses, and what the women at home were doing at the time – but if you are someone who relishes the gritty detail of battle, who wants to feel the pain, frustration and comradeship of jungle warfare, then why not give Matterhorn a try? You will be joining many others keen to immerse themselves in the Vietnam conflict.
This month also sees the release of a 20th anniversary edition of one of the most famous collections of Vietnam War short stories to be published – The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The book has long been prescribed reading in the U.S. and is a mixture of memoir, history and fiction which questions the reasons for war and the cost to the individual.
It is interesting that as the U.S and its allies find themselves more and more deeply embroiled in the war in Afghanistan, it is Vietnam that is once again attracting the attention of readers. War may not be a pretty subject, but if reading about Vietnam encourages readers to ask questions about current conflicts, then this can only be a good thing.
For more books on Vietnam visit Packabook’s Books Set in Vietnam. While there are further works on the war itself, there are also tales of modern Vietnam and even the odd love story!
Every time I hear the cry that the book is dead, I have a little chuckle to myself.
You see – I don’t believe it for a minute.
I can see how ereaders and the likes of Apple’s new ipad will have their place. I’m quite a gadget girl at heart, and the idea of being able to load up hundreds of books on one device is very attractive. But no piece of gadgetry will EVER replace the joy of snuggling up with a proper book.
And this is what the people who predict the death of the book forget. We humans have a passion for real books that is not always logical or practical. Of course it makes sense to be able to have all these great works of fiction at your fingertips on one tiny little screen, but the very fact that the books are so available – just a click on a screen away – makes them less attractive.
I want to work a little harder to get my reading material. I want to line up in a bookshop to buy it. I want to order it online and then have to wait a few days for it to arrive. I want to wait for a friend to finish reading her copy so she can lend it to me. I want the anticipation. And I never want to forget how lucky I am to be able to read and to have easy access to as many books as I can ever consume in a lifetime.
It is when I read stories about some of the weird and wonderful libraries that exist in the world that I really remember how fortunate I am.
In Colombia, Luis Soriano sets off nearly every weekend with his two donkeys to lend books to people in small villages. He believes his ‘biblioburro’ will help fight poverty in the region. This article in the New York Times tells his story, or hear it from Luis himself in this video by ayoka productions.
And I love the solution this English village came up with for their library.
Faced one day with losing both their mobile library and their phone box, the villagers of Westbury-sub-Mendip in Somerset decided to combine them both. It appears to have been hugely successful and has so inspired people from around the world, that they have been sending books to the village to add to the phone box collection. Could the villagers have resorted to ereaders? Of course they could. But where’s the fun in that?
One organisation which is determined to bring the wonder of books to everyone is Room To Read. Building libraries and schools in the developing world, RTR aims to break the cycle of poverty by providing education and access to books to all, one child at a time. Room to Read figures show that a staggering 700 million adults in the world are illiterate – and cannot enjoy a book in the way that you can, whenever you like, wherever you are.
So every time you pick up a book, open it lovingly. Books contain the world’s stories and are the results of countless hours of work by all involved in creating them. Books are a wonder and we are lucky to have them. Cherish them – for a world without real books will be a lesser place.
PS. What country are you passionate about? Head over to Packabook’s main site and see what amazing books we have selected for you set in the country of your choice.