Book Review: Tom Rachman's new novel 'The Imposters,' a global journey of disparate stories

“The Imposters,” by Tom Rachman (Little, Brown and Company)

Dutch novelist Dora Frenhofer, now in her 70s, is living alone in her London apartment during the coronavirus pandemic, determined to write her last novel while she still can.

As the lead character in Tom Rachman’s new book “The Imposters,” Dora proceeds to take us on a romp around the world, from New Delhi to New York, Copenhagen to California, Paris to Australia to the Middle East.

Many of the characters we meet along the way are assorted types of writers, and characters taken directly from Dora’s life. Her estranged daughter is a stand-up comedy writer in Los Angeles. A deliveryman she befriended ends up writing fake news in England.

There’s also Dora’s brother, who was lost in India decades ago, a former lover and her last remaining friend.

Each chapter in Rachman’s book is a complete story that connects to the others, even if it isn’t always immediately clear how the stories tie together.

The different stories stories feel depressing, but there’s a bit of sly humor along the way. Some readers may enjoy the book for its literary form as it aims a critical eye at the written word.

Dora ends up throwing away all the books in her home, both the ones she wrote herself and the ones she inherited from her parents. Danny, a novelist from Brooklyn, tosses all the complimentary books he gets at a literary festival in Australia into a trash bin in his hotel room — much to the horror of some of the authors who wrote them.

The manuscript of a young man named Amir is lost when it’s left in a taxi.

Rachman gained fame more than a decade ago ago writing about another group of neurotic writers in his New York bestseller, “The Imperfectionists,” about an English-language newspaper in Rome. He also worked for The Associated Press.

The writers in the new book truly seem to think of themselves as “imposters,” filled with self doubt. Even Dora comments on her own imposter syndrome.

“When my first novel came out, I worried that literary types might quiz me about the Great Books, exposing me as an imposter,” Dora says, recalling when her first novel was published. “But they never asked; nobody knows.”

Danny, the New York author, “is hideously aware of the sentimentality, the devices, the falsity,” when reading from his book at the festival. “He’s no more an artist than the other imposters.”

“She had nothing worth writing,” Rachman writes of Morgan, a South African. “Had she failed to ask the right questions? She was making an idiot of herself, posing as a proper journalist.”


Ed’s Note: Despite their shared years working for The Associated Press, reviewer Anita Snow never crossed paths with Rachman.