This odd notion in Tom Rachman’s delightful The Imperfectionists appealed to my fondness for the absurd. The novel revolves around characters somehow linked through an international, English language newspaper based on Rome. This is about a reader.
She has read every copy of the paper since 1976, when her husband, Cosimo de Monerecchi, was posted to Jeddah. He, the Italian ambassador, traveled without restriction in Saudi Arabia. But she, as a woman, was effectively detained in a guarded zone for Westerners, while her two sons attended the international school all day. From boredom, she took to reading the paper, which in the 1970s was one of the few foreign periodicals available in the kingdom. She had never learned the technique of newspaper reading, so took it in order like a book, down the columns, left to right, page after page. She read every article and refused to move on until she was done, which meant that each edition took several days to complete. Much was confusing at first. At night, she posed questions to Cosimo, initially basic ones like “Where is the Upper Volta?” Later, her queries grew more complex, such as “If both the Chinese and the Russians are Communists, why do they disagree?” Until she was posing questions about the Palestinians’ role in Jordanian affairs, infighting among apartheid opponents, and supply-side economics. Cosimo occasionally referred to an event that she hadn’t reached yet, spoiling the surprise, so she gave him strict orders not to leak anything, even in passing. Thus began her slow drift from the present.
One year into her newspaper reading, she was six months behind. When they returned to Rome in the 1980s ,she remained stranded in the late 1970s. When it was the 1990s outside, she was just getting to know President Reagan. When planes struck the Twin Towers, she was watching the Soviet Union collapse. Today it is February 18, 2007, outside this apartment. Within, the date remains April 23, 1994.