The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

The Italian Teacher

Tom Rachman

With his signature humanity and humor, Tom Rachman examines a life lived in the shadow of greatness, cementing his place among his generation's most exciting literary voices.

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"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 Perrotta, bestselling author of Mrs. Fletcher

A masterful novel about the son of a great painter striving to create his own legacy, by the bestselling author of The Imperfectionists.

Conceived while his father, Bear, cavorted around Rome in the 1950s, Pinch learns quickly that Bear's genius trumps all. After Bear abandons his family, Pinch strives to make himself worthy of his father's attention--first trying to be a painter himself; then resolving to write his father's biography; eventually settling, disillusioned, into a job as an Italian teacher in London. But when Bear dies, Pinch hatches a scheme to secure his father's legacy--and make his own mark on the world.

With his signature humanity and humor, Tom Rachman examines a life lived in the shadow of greatness, cementing his place among his generation's most exciting literary voices.

Advance Galley Reviews

Charles "Pinch" Bravinsky is the son Bear and Natalie Bavinsky. He famous and flamboyant artist, she emotional and mentally fragile aspirant. This heritage is by turns comic, tragic, fierce and faded, but it is never dull. The story of Pinches life is the kind of story that I do not usually read, but from now on I will have an eye out for Tom Rachman's work. The wonderfully realized characters enthrall you, the prose dazzles with a beautiful scintillating humanity, and when the story ends, you will wish for more. I did not expect to like this book a tenth as much as I now do and I cannot recommend it more highly. My thanks to Penguin for the advance readers copy on which I have based this review.

I really enjoyed this book and was sad to see it come to an end. Pinch lives in Bear's shadow all of his life. He is one of many children fathered by his father with many different women and yet the only one that it seems that Bear relates to as well. Pinch wants so badly to impress his father that he gives up his art after his father tells him that he is a failure and then seems to settle into an ordinary life as a teacher. When Bear dies, he uses his art to try to resolve his lack of self worth and to get back at his father in a way. I liked that the book was divided into different sections that divided his life.

The Italian Teacher, Tom Rachman’s latest offering, seems to be a hard book to like. If you look at the latest rating on Goodreads, 3.52, you might be under impressed. I am glad that I was not influenced by this number, as I was genuinely entertained by the characters, the plot and the writing. Perhaps it is the plethora of dysfunctional characters that is unsatisfactory. The book is really about Charles ‘Pinch’ Bavinsky, son of a narcissistic artist father, Bear, and a manic-depressive failed ceramist mother, Natty. He is scarred by his dysfunctional parents, especially his dad. But Pinch is a sympathetic character and the reader would like him to succeed. We watch his life as it progresses from father-adoring child to budding artist, to scorned artist. Dad says upon reviewing Pinch’s work: “I got to tell you, kiddo. You’re not an artist. And you never will be.” So Pinch studies to be an art historian and wants to write his father’s biography. Many disappointments later, he is now an Italian teacher at the Berlitz School in London. Can he survive all this and make his own mark? This book is full of complicated people, both main and supporting characters. The ending though surprising, was quite satisfying.

I like Tom Rachman and was eager to read his latest book. Sadly, I felt it a chore that dragged on for a looong time. Although it was well-written, it wasn't enough. The main character, Bear Bavinsky, was an egotistical, often married [five times?], man--with many offspring. Nor did I much care for his eldest son, Charlie, aka Pinch--the Italian Teacher of the title [though he came to that somewhat late in the book]. The "plot"--such as it was, kept me going--sort of, but I didnt much care. And it went from 1955 to 2018! Certainly all the characters [and there were many] were vividly drawn. And there was much to learn about the art world--Rome, New York, and more. Though this book has received some raves, I slogged through it.

Pinch’s parents are both artists. His mother, Natalie, is an eccentric maker of pottery and his father is the renowned painter, Bear Bavinsky. Bear is completely self-absorbed and only cares about his art. His son strives for his attention and praise. When Pinch makes his own effort at being an artist, his father tells him that he, Pinch, will never be an artist and Pinch believes him. Bears abandons Pinch and his mother in Italy and is off to America, where more wives and children await him. Pinch dreams of writing his father’s biography one day but he becomes completely disillusioned and lost and ends up teaching Italian in London. When Bear dies, Pinch comes up with a plan that he hopes will secure his father’s legacy. This is such a beautifully written book, one that I became fully emerged in. Pinch is such a conflicted soul and tries so hard to impress his father, only to fall flat due to Bear’s egocentricity. My heart broke over and over for him and I just wanted to shake him and tell him to go live his own life. Natalie becomes so unstable and insecure but her constant love for her son shines throughout the book. Bear, as despicable as he can be, also has a charming side and it’s obvious why his son is so blinded by him. This is a vivid portrayal of a man who has lived his life for someone else’s art, ignoring his own dreams. I often wanted to Google these people to find out more about them, they were that real. Most highly recommended.

Slow-moving tale of unappreciated son who craves his father’s approval more than anything else in the world. The father is a celebrity artist, absent, cruel and ultimately has some 17-odd children from various liaisons. The celebrity comes from withholding his art and withholding is his through-line, his life’s cause. There’s a sweet ending to this tale that begins during the last quarter of the book that really redeems the story.

This book certainly kept me engaged. I felt so much sympathy for the main character, Pinch. However, I did want to reach through the pages many times and to help him to see what was really going on! Rachman did a good job of suggesting some of the plot twists without giving too much away too early. I highlighted many passages that I thought were wonderfully written: “… her head bumping the bare bulb, which alternates glare and gloom …” Such a great metaphor for Natalie! Although I felt somewhat frustrated throughout the book, I think it did have a good resolution in the end. I own The Imperfectionists, but haven’t read it yet. I think I’ll move it up on my To Be Read list.

I received early access to The Italian Teacher through Penguin’s First to Read program. I enjoyed the story of the very flawed Bavinsky family. The journey through the life of Pinch is funny, sad, morose but well told. In the beginning, the occasional LONG sentences were off putting. I wanted to add some punctuation. And, the story might have used some editing. Just a bit too long. All in all, the book was good and I would recommend it.

It’s a sprawling story of a boy named Pinch who we first meet as a child living with his mother, Natalie and on occasion, his father Bear. Pinch’s father looms large over his life and his admiration for this father blocks his ability to believe in himself. He becomes an Everyman instead of the talented artist his mother believed him to be. The story is winding and we follow him through school, first love, first adult regrets through middle age. It is a beautiful story and there were times that Pinch’s self-reflection motivated my own. If you are in the mood for walking, however briefly, in another’s shoes this is a book that will take you on that adventure. Not a light read, but it will take you to another life.

Undoubtedly, a full range of emotions are exemplified in this latest work by Tom Rachman. I found it started slow, and while it never really built to any great speed, it did look forward to returning to it. The character of Pinch was well-written as a damaged, yet persevering man, living in the shadow of his father. So much of the story was watching him try to find his true self, that I couldn't help feeling a bit triumphant when he finally stands on his own. This was an enjoyable book to read.

This story shows us the perfect example of why one shouldn't pay much attention to what other people say about our dreams and talents. Pinch grew up in Rome where both his parents worked as artists. His mother, Natalie, a pottery artist, and his father, renown painter Bear Bavinsky. While growing up in an environment full of art, he had this grand dream of becoming an artist. But, when Pinch shows his father what his works consists of, Mr. Bavinsky tells him that he doesn't have it in him to become a painter. Suddenly, everything he has ever dreamed of falls down a bottom-less pit. After that, anything he accomplishes doesn't seem enough, it's just mediocre. Fortunately, Pinch finds out a way to fulfill his dreams in a never-imagined way, surprising his few and closest friends... as much as the readers.

He has a way with words, author Tom Rachman, a lyrical quality that entices a reader to suspend disbelief and enter the world of Pinch Bavinsky, the solitary hero of THE ITALIAN TEACHER. The protagonist is the son of a Jewish bundle of neuroses who hates her mother (a requisite character trait these days, it seems) and a narcissistic artist whose time comes and goes over the course of the novel. Religion does indeed figure in this novel, however, but it is Pinch who is the true believer, worshipping his ne'er-do-well father. It is a faith that forms the son and guides his choices, for good or ill. Pinch grows up in the shadow of the famous man who is too busy bedding women to take much heed of his son, although they do form a rather tight bond, the origins not discovered until later. Such is the stuff that drives a narrative that is quite compelling, as the reader goes along for a rather sad ride through the life of Pinch, with all its misery and inability to form relationships. His is the solitary life, his focus centered on getting his father's attention while trying to avoid his somewhat unstable mother's smothering. A young man full of enthusiasm for art ends up as a language teacher, his life's course plotted by a father whose motivations are unclear until you reach the end - but it's that kind of tension that keeps you turning the page. The prose is so lovely that you'll despair of ever being able to write nearly as well, and the story at times so far-fetched that you almost can't believe the path it has taken, but it's a delight all the same. The conclusion is a tribute to true love and the tight bonds of friendship, the sort of ending that you'd hoped for as you discover more about Pinch, his father, and his mother. This was one of those rare books that I stayed up well past bedtime to finish, a pleasure to read.

I'm honestly not sure how I feel about this book; I neither loved it nor hated it; I was just sort of "meh" about the whole thing. I kept turning pages, anxious for the end---not because I wanted to find out what happened (well, partly, I kept hoping it'd get more interesting), but mostly so that I could move on to the next book. The book follows Charles "Pinch" Bavinsky, son of the famous artist, womanizer, and overall shitty father Bear Bavinsky, from early childhood till after Pinch's death, but, to me, there was nothing special about Pinch's lifelong journey; it felt like any other coming-of-age story I've ever read. From the letter to the reader at the beginning of the book, I was expecting this to be a funny story, but it was honestly pretty depressing from start to finish. I laughed out loud maybe twice, and it was always in response to Eva Petros, the only character with personality in the whole book. Everyone else either felt stereotypical (Bear) or one-dimensional (Barrows). As far as protagonists go, I found Pinch to be rather uncompelling---he was kind of a wuss, actually, and I would have had more respect for him if he had become an artist in his own right, under his own name, rather than painting replicas and then creating a series and presenting them as Bear's works. The pedestal upon which he put Bear was, frankly, ridiculous---and if it wasn't apparent in the Faces series, then it was certainly telling that the narrative always refers to Charles as "Pinch" (which is the worst nickname ever, by the way, one bestowed upon him by his father when he was just a kid), even though it's a nickname only his mother and father called him. I think Bachman wanted us to feel triumphant at the end of the book, when Marsden and Jing discover what Pinch has done, and when Marsden goes to a gallery and looks upon the works that his talented friend painted without any recognition, but instead I just felt remotely sad (and a little disgusted) that Pinch didn't think enough of himself to become accomplished on his own. Oftentimes for me, the emotions a book elicits from me is the hallmark by which I judge it, especially if a book has brought me to tears. But when Pinch died---rather unceremoniously, I might add---I didn't feel much other than glad that the book was over. Which, I suppose, is telling in itself.

I received early access to The Italian Teacher through Penguin’s First to Read program. The story traces the life of Pinch Bravinsky as he tries to live his life outside of the shadow of his artistic father, Bear Bravinsky. After a rather slow beginning, some of the story line picks up as readers become further aware of Pinch’s life and the people who are in it.

I surprised myself by absolutely loving this book. As I began reading, I was afraid the story would be a dry piece about the art world and the characters that inhabit it. As I continued, though, I found myself engrossed in the story and especially in the main character, Pinch. Pinch is the son of acclaimed artist Bear Bavinsky, a larger than life figure, who fathers Pinch during his third and short marriage to a pottery artist, in Rome. While Pinch’s mother is devoted to her son, Bear is the busy artist, finding little time for his son or wife until he eventually leaves to father a new family. As Pinch grows, he tries to prove to his father and to the professional art world that he has something to contribute, but he is frustrated in every attempt. He finally gives up his dream and takes a job as an Italian teacher, living a quiet and obscure life in England...until his father’s death provides him with the opportunity to leave his mark on the world. An absolutely engrossing read. At times funny, at times sad, the reader cannot help but become emotionally involved in these characters.

” Yes, they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness But it’s better than drinkin’ alone” Piano Man Songwriter: Billy Joel There’s quite a bit of traveling about the world in this story from Rome to London, Toronto, New York, France, and Pennsylvania. There’s also a bit of traveling through time, as this begins in 1955, with stops along the way, and ending in 2018. There’s another journey, as well: to the world of Art, artists, and the journey to become a known, accomplished artist. And a well-known, accomplished artist is what Bear Bavinsky has become as this story gets underway, married in his earlier years to Natalie, or Natty, as she is called by Bear, and eventually their son Charles comes along. Charles goes by the name of Pinch, a name his father bestowed upon him in his young years. Bear is a self-absorbed, arrogant man, unconventional even in his outlook about his paintings and dismissive of the opinions of others. Those pieces he deems less than perfect are relegated to the fire-pit. His view toward his wife, then wives, is similar. When they’ve lost that shiny glow, he finds a newer model, finding many to choose from among those who model for him. He marries several times, fathers more children than I could keep track of, all of whom he tends to leave behind as easily as he departs from their mothers. Still, he needs to feel someone really sees him, someone who really sees him as he sees himself, who sees him in his art. That person is Pinch, who wants so desperately to be loved by his father that he tells Bear only that which he knows Bear wants to hear, confirming Bear’s opinions, decisions and, as he grows older, his talent. As a boy, Pinch had dreamed of being an artist like his father, seeing the importance attached to Bear, the way others treated him as opposed to his mother, a sculptor. He wanted that, he wanted what his father wanted. To be seen as someone special. The fact that he received that from Natty, his mother, meant less and less as he grew older. Visting his father once with a newer wife and a house filled with children by the time he is able to visit, he shares a piece of his art he’d brought along to get Bear’s opinion. Bear’s response is soul-crushing, letting him know that he had no talent; he would never be an artist. As he enters those decision-making years for post-university careers, he decides that he will write a book about his father’s career as an artist. He wants others to see the brilliance of the man. When that doesn’t really work out the way he planned, he changes to becoming a teacher, teaching Italian in London. Through all these years, he becomes the one that Bear can consistently turn to, confide his fears in, look to for confirmation that his decisions are the right ones. That he is, in fact the only one he wants to have his estate, when he dies. Years away, of course, with the last years of his work never sold, never displayed, hidden away in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. There are some surprise twists and turns to this story, and some subtle humour, and a lot of family squabbles and maybe even some subterfuge to keep things entertaining. A thought-provoking novel about families, about creativity, and the meaning of art, and the influence of the popularity of an artist’s work being the measure of its worth. This is the first of Tom Rachman’s novels that I’ve read, so I can’t compare this to any of his others. I enjoyed this, I was engaged throughout despite the frustrations associated with reading this as an ePUB. Many thanks for the ARC provided by First to Read


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