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The Italian Teacher

Best Seller
The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman
Paperback $16.00
Mar 05, 2019 | ISBN 9780735222700

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  • Mar 05, 2019 | ISBN 9780735222700

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  • Mar 20, 2018 | ISBN 9780735222717

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Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post,, InstylePoets and Writers, Southern Living, Seattle Times, Chicago Review of Books, Newsday, The Boston Herald, and more

“Rachman is a brilliant choreographer of skewed desires . . . He has a deft way of describing atrocious behavior without damning his characters, without suggestions that they’re entirely circumscribed by their worst acts. His comedy is tempered by a kind of a gentleness that’s a salve in these mean times . . . An exotic touch of intrigue arises in THE ITALIAN TEACHER . . . Rachman brings his own, warmer touch to the crime, transforming it into a surprising act of defiance that’s both deliciously ironic and deeply affectionate.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Engaging and subtle . . . Rachman appears in perfect control of his material . . . engrossing, by turns gently humorous . . . The Italian Teacher is a psychologically nuanced pleasure.” — New York Times Book Review

“A poignant, touching tale about living in the shadow of a brazen artistic genius. . . Unforgettable.” –USA Today

“Masterfully illustrates how malicious a father-son rivalry can be.” — People

“The reliably excellent Rachman this time offers a nuanced, fascinating portrait of a celebrated painter looking ahead to his legacy.” – Entertainment Weekly
“Pencils down, brushes up: Rachman goes beyond the base coat with THE ITALIAN TEACHER, a portrait of a son his large-scale father.” – Vanity Fair

“In The Italian Teacher, Rachman manages to conjure a fresh perspective on fame and its destructive effects on the people ensnared by it. Instead of running toward celebrity, readers may find themselves instead turning around and running away.” — Chicago Tribune

“Rachman wrestles with age-old questions: What is the purpose of art? How do we judge excellence? Does fame matter? . . . [THE ITALIAN TEACHER] moves with the energy and gusto of Bear. With Pinch/Charles, it broods and hopes and plumbs the depths. That’s a lot to expect of any novel, yet THE ITALIAN TEACHER delivers in spades.”—Dan Cryer, San Francisco Chronicle

“[THE ITALIAN TEACHER] takes satisfyingly unexpected turns, especially when the reader might expect a clichéd depiction of father-son strife. And Rachman offers a nuanced portrait of talented people whose lives don’t work out the way they had hoped.”—Newsday

“[An] artful page-turner.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“A momentous drama of a volatile relationship and the fundamental will to survive.” —Booklist, starred review

The Italian Teacher is a rich novel with a colorful cast of memorable characters.” —Hello Giggles

“Along with the skewering of art-world and academic pretensions, there is humor, humanity, and compassion in Rachman’s writing. For most fiction readers.” —Library Journal

“The Italian Teacher is a marvel–an entertaining, heartbreaking novel about art, family, loyalty, and authenticity. Tom Rachman is an enormously talented writer–this book is alive, from the first page to the last.” —Tom Perotta, bestselling author of The Leftovers

Praise for Tom Rachman:

“[Rachman] writes perfectly and with a warm, twinkling-eyed generosity toward human behavior that does not get in the way of his pitiless observation of it.” — Lorrie Moore, The New Yorker

“[The Imperfectionists is] so good I had to read it twice simply to figure out how he pulled it off. I still haven’t answered that question, nor do I know how someone so young could have acquired such a precocious grasp of human foibles. The novel is alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching, and it’s assembled like a Rubik’s Cube.” –Christopher Buckley, The New York Times 

“Mr. Rachman’s transition from journalism to fiction writing is nothing short of spectacular. The Imperfectionists is a splendid original, filled with wit and structured so ingeniously that figuring out where the author is headed is half the reader’s fun. The other half comes from his sparkling descriptions not only of newspaper office denizens but of the tricks of their trade, presented in language that is smartly satirical yet brimming with affection.” –Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Author Q&A

You are best known for your novel about journalists, The Imperfectionists. Why did you want to write about visual artists?

The hidden sides of culture fascinate me. In my debut, I peeked inside the news media, then my second novel looked at books and reading, and this one peeps into the art world. I chose artists this time because I’m intrigued by wildly creative people, those who build something astonishing, whether in sculpture or music or painting. For this form of magic, they are treated like saints—yet often act like demons in private. What kind of people are they, our great creators? Tricky, crazed, compelling. The kind of characters I love to write.

There is a persistent idea in how we talk about the lives of artists, which is that it is necessary to make great sacrifices, both your own and on behalf of your loved ones, in order to create great art. How do you think about the artist’s life?

Art is an intensely competitive pursuit, with few achieving their ambitions. Those who rise to prominence often combine blind dedication with glaring egotism. We tend to give them a pass, saying: “Yes, sure, the great artist abandoned his family, snubbed his children, betrayed everyone who ever supported him—but have you seen his pictures?!” My novel doesn’t say that this is right or wrong. Rather, it exposes the cost of art—not the millions of dollars cited in auctions, but the even higher price paid in private by those close to an important artist.

Love is very tricky in The Italian Teacher. When it comes to romance, Bear spreads his love thinly and conditionally over many people, while Pinch becomes passionately devoted to one person very young, then his relationships that follow seem to react to that first love. When you were writing this novel how did you think about love in the lives of your characters?

We crave affection from those who offer it inconsistently, and we devalue affection from those who are safe and steady. This is tragic, for we end up chasing warmth from the undeserving—sometimes, this need curses an entire lifetime. Pinch, the main character in this novel, struggles with that burden, yearning for fondness from his father, who sometimes lifts him up, sometimes casts him down. Until finally, Pinch revolts—and the history of art is changed forever.

The title of the book is intriguing. There are so many other careers, talents, and qualities Pinch wanted to have or to be perceived as having than the title of The Italian Teacher seems to grant him.

There’s irony in the title because Pinch strives throughout to be defined as more than his day job. Yet a theme of the book is status and the agony that it subjects us to. Some seem to care more about posterity than the life passing before them. Many artists, in particular, took up the trade partly to cheat death by enduring in their art. But eventually, they’re gone too, just as completely as the rest of us. In The Italian Teacher, Bear looks sure to live on as a great artist, and Pinch to fade from the record. But will that be their fate?

There are no clear winners and losers in The Italian Teacher, no sense that wrongs are being cosmically righted or that characters get what they deserve. Do you see Pinch, at the end of the novel, as triumphing over his father in some way, or is there something else going on there?

I feel that by the end Pinch gains insight, accomplishment, and love too (even if he doesn’t always see it). As for who wins, I suppose I don’t think that way. The winners in life can be awful creatures, while the supposed losers are often those I want to befriend! Experience is too complex, painful, and joyous to reduce to a thumbs-up or thumbs-down life, I think. Pinch might seem a failed man by some measures. But, as the reader discovers, he achieves something extraordinary with his life—even if the world will never know.

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