In “The Imperfectionists,” Tom Rachman captures both the glamour of the foreign correspondent’s lifestyle — drinking in Venice, loving in Paris — and the banality of the actual job. Set at a struggling newspaper in Rome, the novel depicts disillusioned characters such as Arthur, an obit writer whose work always ends up “between the Puzzle-Wuzzle and World Weather.” Rachman, who drew on his background as a journalist in Rome and Paris, reads Friday at Politics and Prose.
Did the romantic notion of the reporter abroad influence your career path?
My intent was to gain experience for fiction I eventually hoped to write. But there’s no question I was drawn in by the hope that journalism would be a creative, thrilling environment. I realized early it wasn’t like “All the President’s Men” or “The Front Page.”
So, you didn’t live the hard-drinking, carousing Hemingway life?
There was a lot less drinking. Fifty or 60 years ago, journalism was a hodgepodge of characters who were flung into the pit of night cop reporting and hazing from other journalists, almost entirely men at that time. That certainly wasn’t the world I entered.
You’ve said you admire George Orwell, who was also a journalist and a fiction writer.
There’s almost nobody whose principles of clear writing are better than Orwell’s. The training of a journalist, of working with words for thousands of hours, is extraordinarily useful for a fiction writer.
Arthur interviews a woman for her own obit. Is that based on a personal experience?
Obituaries were among my favorite to write because they have elements no other news stories have — a story from start to finish with a proper conclusion.
» Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Fri., 8 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness)
Written by Express contributor Jessica Roake
Photo by Alessandra Rizzo