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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“An exotic touch of intrigue arises in THE ITALIAN TEACHER . . . deliciously ironic and deeply affectionate.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
 
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

“The Italian Teacher” is a brilliant and interesting novel that tells the story of Charles “Pinch” Bavinsky, the son of the famous American painter Bear Bavinsky, a contemporary artist whose life has been completely devoted to art. Pinch is obsessed by the desire to be the perfect copy of his father, and not a frail soul as his mother Natalie, a talented potter who tried to make herself known to the vast public through a museum exhibition but failed. Pinch wants to be respected and acclaimed as his father, and not disregarded as his mother. He tries to imitate his perfect father, a great icon praised by all renowned critics. His mother plumps his hopes by praising his paints, but then he finally recognizes that his mother has stoked his hopes by adoring his paintings just because he was her only son. However, Pinch is unable to cultivate his dream, because Bear, as he did with Natalie, completely destroyed his hopes by saying to him “you will never be an artist”. In fact, Bear is described a huge ship, powering forward on his mission – to leave for posterity few major works, with no real interest in money – without caring about anyone. Pinch is forced to leave aside his dream. He decides to become a critic, but once again he fails to enter the NYU. When all his friends have taken their own way, he is forced to take a different path. Because he was born and lived many years in Rome, he can speak Italian as a native speaker. Therefore, he undertakes the career as an Italian Teacher at Utz Language School in London. But he still cultivates his dream to paint again. Pinch has promised to paint again and he really did it. This is the secret he has decided to take with him forever. Moreover, what I really loved is the image of the artist given throughout the novel. The artist is someone who has no connection with the real world. The artist uses his paintings as a way to connect himself with the people and art is a way to express his inner self. The artist needs to have three main elements: personality, talent and luck. But what makes an artist going on is the fact that other souls care about you. To sum up, I think it’s one of the best books I have read this year. 5 stars

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman follows the trajectory of Charles “Pinch” Bavinsky's life as he perpetually tries to gain the approval and recognition of his father, world famous artist Bear Bavinsky. The magic of this book is that the characters feel so real. The book is pure fiction, but it feels as if it is a real story about real people. Also, no spoilers, but I love the unexpected ending. Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2018/06/the-italian-teacher.html Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

Well written but with a key problem; I don't care for the main character that much and therefore have trouble finding reasons to keep picking up the book.

'With hideous clarity, Pinch sees himself: a pompous bore, a man he'd dislike.' p. 177 I really enjoyed both of Rachman's earlier novels, and thoroughly expected to find this just as enchanting... but alas, was not to be. The main problem is that, as his protagonist so wisely discerns, the main character is an unlikeable bore, which deflates a lot of the story. Unlike his last book with the irrepressible Tooly Zylberberg, there is a large hole in the center here, that cannot quite be compensated for by the myriad of much more fascinating characters on the periphery. This MIGHT have worked as a longish short story, or even a novella, but padded out to a very sluggish 340 pages, it was more of a chore to get through. Still, Rachman's, prose stylings and some of his impish humor shines through here and there ... so not a total waste, just a bit dispiriting due to expectations of grandeur. 3 out of 5 stars.

Occasionally, an author manages to create unlikeable characters that are so compelling that the reader sympathizes with them and has to know more about them. Tom Rachman masterfully achieves this in "The Italian Teacher." While I wouldn't want to befriend either Bear or Pinch in real life, both father and son fascinated me, and I appreciated watching them navigate their relationship with one another as well as with other key characters in the novel. Thank you to Penguin First to Read for making this novel available.

I spent the first one hundred or so pages of The Italian Teacher hate-reading it, silently daring the protagonist's father to be an more awful person. He's a charming lout, objectively talented, but spends most of his time seducing the moderately good-looking women of the world while loudly disdaining the art collectors' world. He claims to be devoted to the art, but shows not a single piece of art during the time that the reader knows him. He builds families, then burns them to the ground on a fairly regular schedule, although he seems to take a liking to the titular character, and keeps in contact with him, unlike the rest of offspring. Somewhere after that, when the book settles into following the life of Pinch Bavinsky, rather than piling on reasons for us to hate Bear Bavinsky, it becomes a delight. I didn't find much humor in the story, but I think I found myself too attached to the tragedy of Pinch's life. He spends all of his life in his father's shadow- never the artist his father was, nor the Romeo. He finds meaning, though, later, through his rediscovery of art; hopefully, he even finds immortality, despite a life he would call without event or reknown.

The Italian Teacher was heart-warming once I got into the story and realized who the actual protagonist was going to be. Pinch is so determined to "be someone" like the distant father he put on a pedestal. It is frustrating reading of a character like Pinch who desires, his father's love and societal acceptance, seem so simple yet so hard to obtain. The different perspectives on art and beauty throughout are seeded in truth and are intriguing to consider. I would recommend to any friend. Thanks FirstToRead for letting me read an advanced copy.

I really liked this book (it reminded me of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which I also loved). As others have said, it is character-driven, which can be a bit tedious at times because. However, since the characters felt so real, I didn't mind as much; I wasn't bored at all (although I did want to shake some sense into Pinch regarding his devotion to Bear). I enjoyed Rachman's writing too—rich in details and lyrical. I love how the book ends with a quiet triumph and underscoring the loyalty of friends. I was expecting some momentous redemption for our protagonist, but I think the way Rachman chose to seal Pinch's fate was appropriate, especially for Pinch's characterization. Overall, it was a great read.

"Pinch shakes his head: the long, loud effect of fathers." I'll read any and all books set in Italy, especially if they're about artists, I have a type. I wanted so badly to feel these characters, to connect and engage with their story, but the whole time it felt like they were an arms length away. Pinch grows up in Rome trying to grab the attention of his seemingly caring yet awfully distant artist father and never grows far from the need to impress. It wasn't until 200 odd pages in that I was actually reading because I wanted to continue and not because I felt like I had to. Of course, nobody HAS to read anything, I just hate to abandon books I've started. The last third really saved this one for me, the idea that art can grant immortality if only by sheer force of will is quite beautiful. Also to note that this is my favorite book cover of the year so far, it's just perfect.

4 stars This is a warm-hearted tale of a son trying his whole life to make his relationship with his father work towards a healthy balance for his own identity. In addition to insights about the psychology of fathers and sons, the story told provides a great window on the interplay between authentic creativity in art and its corruption by the incestuous enterprises of marketing, journalism, and academic study. Charles (“Pinch”) grows up in Rome in the 50s and 60s with his loving mother Natalie, who is a talented potter, and, for the preteen years, with his father Bear Bavinsky. Bear is a famous artist, portrayed nicely by Rachman as one of those larger-than-life personalities with a huge ego but ample charm and charisma. To Pinch, he is like a virtual god bestowing a sense of life in his soul whenever he is blessed to be in his vivid, vivacious presence. But great art calls for great concentration and intense work, which results in many broken promises to be with Pinch. Plus, Bear is an inveterate womanizer, fathering many children as he moves from relationship to relationship. Pinch is heroic to me for doing his damned best to take the good and leave the bad. A sad part for me is how Bear inspires Pinch to get art training and develop the ambition to follow in his footsteps, yet when finally pressured to look at his work, his causal dismissal of any signs of talent leads Pinch to abandon art for many years. But he still carries the respect for his father’s mission and integrity in destroying all work he judges not to be “great” and choosing to sell only to publicly accessible museums and not galleries that supply private collections. After getting a dose of the absurdities of art fashion and trends in criticism in an art program in college in Toronto, Pinch enters a period of drift. He is discouraged at how many of his friends, including his first girlfriend, try to exploit him to get knowledge about or access to his father. Pinch eventually settles in London and survives by taking on work at a language school teaching Italian. I feel there is some kind of metaphor here about the value of speaking and listening to diverse people and the art of translation across minds as a key to surviving the challenges life deals him (and us the readers). Meanwhile, his continuing loyalty to his father and attempts to please him during visits to his rural cottage and studio in France pays off when Bear assures him of his favored status among his kids and assigns him as executor for the disposition of his cache of paintings hidden in his studio after his death. In the surprising ending Pinch finds an outrageous and creative solution to honor his father’s wishes, be fair to his many half-siblings, and fulfill his own artistic talents. I loved to see his frozen heart melted and its twists uncurled toward the ending of this engaging saga. The prose of this book is plain and does not strive for lyricism or melodramatic flourishes about the creative process. But the dialog was fresh and lively with plenty of subtle or ironic humor. For example, here Natalie, years after she kicked Bear out for philandering, comments on her acceptance of Bear’s selfishness as a key to his success: ”…‘I’ll hate the public before they hate me!’ Oh. Poor Bear.” A half smile. “I’ve never been able to get mad at your father. Why is that?” “Because there’s no malice in Dad. He’s just that way. Like a huge ship, powering forward on his mission, and nobody can stop it.” As another sample, here Pinch and girlfriend from art school question a friend at a gallery exhibit of radical art in the vein of Mapplethorpe about his experiences in a California arts program: “If I had to say in one word, I’d go with ‘pretty unreal,’ actually. …It occurs to Pinch that, unless somebody takes control, they risk exchanging vapidities for the next half hour. “We’d like to hear how it was studying there. Could one learn, say, how to paint? Is that possible?” “Painting is repetition at this point, right? “Are there life drawing classes?” “Maybe. But it’s more free-flow. It’s about finding your own subversion, right? You bring work in for crit, and see what gets born. But nobody’s judging. It’s pretty antifascist that way.” …Barrow asks, “Sorry, Temple, just to be clear, what do they teach?” “Well, you can’t teach art. You either fake it. Or you fake it. Right?” “Temple’s mentor was John Baldessari,” Marsden notes. “He’s the one who did that video piece, ‘Teaching a Plant the Alphabet.’ “ “Does the plant get its MFA at the end?” Pinch asks. I look forward to tracking down Rachman’s 2010 novel, “The Imperfectionists.” This book was provided for review by Penguin Random House through the First-to-Read program. Goodreads posting (with html formatting): https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2330325448

This book deals with the characters relationships in a real way. Some of relationships are fragmented and unhealthy. The artists son who becomes a language teacher feels the need to protect his father. Though slow moving at times worth checking out for literature fans.

Although this book will not be for everyone, I enjoyed it quite a bit. The story is largely character-driven, and those characters can be pretty frustrating at times. I so wanted Pinch to move on from craving his father's attention and letting that define his life. I also longed for Pinch to recognize his father's failure to produce. It was frustrating to see Bear justify his every action, and to see him neglecting his children (or at the very least, failing to encourage them). However, these characters are believable and they manage to have friends who are very loyal to them. I think those qualities are what kept me wanting to know what would happen next.

A well written story. While the characters aren't the most likeable, they are realistic. It's definitely a more character driven than plot driven story. It does drag at some points, but I enjoyed reading it. It's a 3.5 star book for me.

I get that different people like different books but am still puzzled by those that did not like this one! Beautifully written, I looked forward to when I could next pick it up, and stayed up reading too late on a few occasions. I don't need my characters to be likable, but believable, and these were in spades. Charles "Pinch" Bavinsky's lifelong struggle - and eventual, secret, triumph - to forge a life outside of the huge shadow cast by his father was at turns tragic, hopeful, frustrating and endearing. The main characters (and most of the minor ones) were fully realized and compelling. Whether and how Pinch puts his plan in motion provides narrative impetus, but it's really the characters that drive this book. I enjoyed this book immensely.

I found this book to be beautifully written (if a little draggy at some points). This novel is more character driven than it is plot driven. There weren't many character's that I liked, and I was unnerved by the protag's almost blind devotion to his father, practically to the point that he was a shadow of a human being. I do, however feel that the bittersweet ending fit perfect. This is the first novel that I have read from Tom Rachman, but I am sure that I will read more.

I struggled with the Italian Teacher. I selected to read it because of the cover. I always go with the look of the cover first. The storyline sounded interesting but boy did I not like the characters. Bear Bovinsky was an overbearing, self-centered man who didn’t seem to care about his 17 children or his wives (I lost count). This story is about his son Pinch, who grew up in Italy with his Canadian mom. Pinch idolized Bear. He worshiped him and anything Bear said about the arts, Pinch took to heart. Bear says an artist is crap, Pinch believes him. Bear says a style of art is crap, Pinch believes him. If Bear tells Pinch he will never be an artist, Pinch quits painting. Pinch lived his life around what his father wanted or said. He spends his entire life making sure Bear is happy and that Bear’s paintings are not sold on the open market but only purchased by museums because Bear thinks so much of himself that he believes he should only be displayed in museums. If I had not received this book through the Penguin Random House First to Read program I would never have finished it, I didn’t like the characters that much. I wanted to reach in and smack Pinch around and get him to wake up and live his life. Even though Tom Rachman is a good writer, I wouldn’t recommend this book to my friends and family unless they enjoy self-centered artists and a son with no spine.

A detailed account of a small life lived in the shadow of a Great Man, Pinch's life story was subtle and slowly charmed me and drew me in. I've read one Rachman book before, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, and that was one of those quirky books that I love but figure so few other people would. This one wasn't quite so quirky and lovable in my eyes, but it still worked some magic on me. Every once in a while, I would get tired of Charles (aka Pinch), and he would be too passive for me and I'd roll my eyes and check to see how much farther I had to go, but then something would happen. Some interesting and new and human, and it would pull me back in. A while later, I'd come up for air, frustrated with Charles, then some small twist would come, etc. The last of third of the book or so was delightful, in a wry grin sort of way. I was inwardly cheering by the end. It's one of those books that I close and gaze off into the distance smiling for a while, not wanting to interrupt this small, very small celebration of a life. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

This is a total cover buy. I'd rather talk about the beautiful cover than the boring book.

Thank you so much for the advance reading copy of this book. I really liked this book, I am a fan of anything set in the art world. It was one of those books that you stay up late reading. You wanted to know what was going to happen. It is the story of an artist that is so self centered you can't possibly like him, one of his many children who just wants his dad's approval, and a cast of characters that I wanted to learn more about. I would have liked to see Natalie have more of a story after Bear leaves the family. I really wanted to see Pinch become successful and not need his father's approval, but even as he grows up he still acts like a little boy. This is an enjoyable read and look forward to more by this author.

Rachman has an excellent reputation as a writer. I felt this story had no characters that I could really care about. Pinch and Bear are both overbearing in their own way. Reading about a narcissistic painter (Bear Bavinsky) did nothing to endear him to the this reader. I felt sorry for Pinch, but with all his language talent, he ended up a screwy little man, who was not endearing, as he was a conivving, brittle man. Having a hard time finishing the book. Hope the last third is better than the first 2/3rds.

Tom Rachman caught my attention with The Imperfectionists, which I thought was fantastic--so I immediately chose to receive this book and read it in about 2 days. He is a compelling writer. I didn't really "like" any of the characters in The Italian Teacher. Bear Bavinsky, the "great artist" is an SOB and an egotist who lacks empathy. The art world that surrounds him, especially gallery owners and agents is equally distasteful. Bear's son, Pinch is a person one is drawn to feel sorry for. His "neediness" and later his apathy are repulsive, but somehow you have sympathy for him. The scenes Rachman draws are well wrought and interesting, but "rotten", somehow. The tragedy of a "life half-lived" is perhaps the saddest part--Pinch COULD have been great with some encouragement, and this narrative begs the question of how much a lack of nurture by parents squeezes the life out of a person. The side characters were well realized, especially Pinch's room mate, whom I always wanted to see more of. His ephemeral relationships with almost all humans, besides one half sister and this room mate, made his pathos palbable. In the end...I didn't find the "twist" satisfying. It wasn't enough...enough to qualify as karma or vengeance or even a satisfying "gotcha". Just sad all the way round, though beautifully written. It does make you think!

Thank you for the advance copy of The Italian Teacher. I loved this book and it will probably be one of my top books of the year. To me, the book can almost be divided into two halves. The first being the story of Bear Bavinsky, an unforgettable, larger than life character. When the story focused on Bear, it was as exciting as if you were in a room with him. When the story focused on his son, Pinch, all I wanted was more Bear. Pinch seemed like such a loser that I wasn't much interested in his story until the second half of the book. Then at that time I wish Pinch's manipulation of the art world was expanded into an even bigger story. The writing was top notch - like a piece of art itself. Sometimes transitions happened pretty quickly and without a lot of warning such as Natalie's mental illness, Bear's death (I am still wondering about this scene!) and Pinch's illness. All in all, you know a book is good when it keeps you thinking well after you finish, as this one did. I would be interested in peeking at a Reader's Guide/Author's notes.

I've read and loved two books by this author and I was disappointed to find that I didn't love this one. I didn't hate it, but it was just ok for me. Bear Bavinsky was a larger than life painter who, for a while, was quite popular. He was also an irresponsible narcissist who had countless wives and girlfriends and 17 children. Bear's appeal to these women (other than his fame) was never made clear to me. The protagonist of this book is his son Pinch (Charles) who was the only child with whom Bear maintained regular contact. I suspect that is because Pinch continued to be awed by his father while the other children had more mixed feelings about him. Pinch grew up in Rome as the only child of his mother Natalie, a Canadian expat and unsuccessful potter. Most of this book describes Pinch's drifting through life waiting for Bear to notice him. As a teenager he tries his hand at painting but gives it up at 16. Eventually he uses his knack for languages to become a teacher of Italian at a London school. It wasn't until the second half of this book that I developed any real interest in Pinch. He was an inert character until he made a decision that could throw the art world into a tizzy. The author makes some points about the inherent value of art and the right of artists to control their work, but for me that was all overshadowed by the fact that Bear was such an appalling human being and Pinch was such a boring one. I hope for a better reaction to the author's next book. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

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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