The Italian Teacher is the second book I’ve read by Tom Rachman after The Imperfectionists. The story, which focuses on the art world and artists, discusses issues such as the father-son relationship, the concept of family, and finding oneself.
The Italian Teacher, with Bear Bavinsky and his son Pinch (Charles) Bavinsky in its focus, talks about many things. Bear Bavinsky is a very successful as well as a strange, contradictory painter. We meet Bear while living in Rome with his second wife and son, Pinch. From the first meeting, we understand that the painter is an unreliable, flighty man, but like every artist, he has a charm that makes most women fall in love with him. And as we approach the end of the novel, we are no longer able to follow neither his wives nor his children.
Even though Bear takes up a lot of space in the book with his huge personality, after a while, we start to listen to Pinch Bavinsky. We read of him growing up in his father’s shadow, constantly seeking his approval, and then his efforts to become a favourite son. In the meantime, we go to America, Canada, England and France, and we are dragged after Pinch and Bear. We take a look at the women and friends who came into the lives of these two men, pop in and out of galleries and ponder the question of what art is.
The Italian Teacher is a novel that contains a lot of things, but, still, I was not fond of it as much as the author’s first book, The Imperfectionists. I couldn’t have strong feelings for any of the characters; I couldn’t make any emotional connection with what happened. However, after the book was finished, I decided that the book’s title was very ingenious. In fact, whenever I think of this title, I am sure that I will think, “what a wonderful choice it was”.
If you love to read about art and artists, The Italian Teacher might be your favourite book. If you don’t have a particular interest in the subject, I think you can read it without much expectation. It’s not a bad book at all; it is just not one of those good books. Enjoy!
“The moneyed all speak of art, the artists all speak of money.”The Italian Teacher, Tom Rachman
The Italian Teacher
The Italian Teacher: Rome, 1955
The artists are gathering together for a photograph. In one of Rome’s historic villas, a party glitters with socialites and patrons. Bear Bavinsky, creator of vast, masculine, meaty canvases, is their god. He is at the centre of the picture. His wife, Natalie, edges out of the shot.
From the side of the room watches little Pinch – their son. At five years old he loves Bear almost as much as he fears him. After Bear abandons their family, Pinch will still worship him, while Natalie faces her own wars with the art world. Trying to live up to his father’s name – one of the twentieth century’s fiercest and most controversial painters – Pinch never quite succeeds. Yet by the end of a career of twists and compromises, he enacts an unexpected rebellion that will leave forever his mark upon the Bear Bavinsky legacy.
What makes an artist? In The Italian Teacher, Tom Rachman displays a nuanced understanding of art and its demons. Moreover, in Pinch he achieves a portrait of vulnerability and frustrated talent that – with his signature humour and humanity - challenges the very idea of greatness.
The Italian Teacher. Wickedly funny, deeply touching . . . I confess this was the first of Rachman’s novels I’d read but I was so swept away by it that I raced out to buy the other three’ PATRICK GALE
Tom Rachman is the author of four works of fiction: his bestselling debut, The Imperfectionists (2010), which was translated into 25 languages; the critically acclaimed follow-up, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers (2014); a book-in-stories, Basket of Deplorables (2017); and a novel set in the art world, The Italian Teacher (2018).
Born in London and raised in Vancouver, Tom studied cinema at the University of Toronto and journalism at Columbia University in New York. He worked at The Associated Press as a foreign-news editor in Manhattan headquarters, then became a correspondent in Rome. He also reported from India, Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea, Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere. To write fiction, he left the AP and moved to Paris, supporting himself as an editor at the International Herald Tribune. Later, he was managing editor of Persuasion, and served as a juror for the Giller Prize.
His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker, among other publications. He lives in London.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: