Italian Teacher
by Rachman, Tom

"A masterful novel that moves from Roman apartments to SoHo galleries to the South of France and tells the story of the son of a great painter striving to create his own legacy, by the bestselling author of THE IMPERFECTIONISTS. Rome, 1955. The artists gather for a picture at a party in an ancient villa. Bear Bavinsky, creator of vast canvases, larger than life, 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, striving to live up to the Bavinsky name; while Natalie, a ceramicist, cannot hope to be more than a forgotten muse. Trying to burn brightly in his father's shadow, Pinch's attempts flicker and die. Yet by the end of a career of twists and compromises, Pinch will enact an unexpected rebellion that will leave forever his mark upon the Bear Bavinsky legacy. A masterful, original examinationof love, duty, art and fame, The Italian Teacher cements Tom Rachman as among this generation's most exciting literary voices"-

Tom Rachman is the author of two novels, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers (2014), and The Imperfectionists (2010), an international bestseller that has been translated into 25 languages. Rachman, who was born in London in 1974 and raised in Vancouver, studied journalism at Columbia University in New York. In 1998, he joined the Associated Press as a foreign-desk editor in New York, then became a correspondent in Rome in 2002. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Slate and The New Statesman, among other publications. He lives in London.

*Starred Review* As the son of renowned artist Bear Bavinsky, Charles, aka Pinch, has always struggled to find his own identity. His father is a legend, a hard-living, opinionated, philandering raconteur whose impact on the world of fine art is in direct relation to his obsessive and strategic secrecy. Bear burns any painting he deems unworthy, thus elevating in value and allure the few works that make it to the public eye. As the father of countless children by numerous women, Bear is as cavalier in the role of parent as he is overprotective of his paintings. Thus, it is highly significant that Pinch alone remains in the old man's orbit, even as he tries to emulate his father's talent. Unceremoniously rebuffed on the one occasion he shows Bear one of his paintings, Pinch retreats to a lackluster career as a language teacher while surreptitiously creating his own body of work. When Bear dies and leaves his estate in an uproar, Pinch embarks on a scheme that will either destroy or protect his father's complicated legacy. Rachman's (The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, 2014) haunting addition to the list of novels about children overshadowed by famous parents is a momentous drama of a volatile relationship and the fundamental will to survive. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

In his poignant latest, Rachman (The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, 2014, etc.) examines a life dominated by someone else's art.Pinch worships his father, noted painter Bear Bavinsky, although Bear's behavior amply justifies the warning of Pinch's stepsister Birdie, daughter of the wife discarded for Pinch's mother, Natalie: "Everything's always about his art....He doesn't hardly care about his actual creations…the human ones." By the time Pinch is 15 in 1965, Bear has moved back to America from Italy and on to a third wife and more kids (eventual total: 17). Stuck in Rome with the increasingly unstable Natalie, Pinch desperately wants to stay connected to his elusive father. Rachman perfectly nails the charm with which Bear cloaks his selfishness and keeps his needy son both at a distance and firmly under his thumb. Bear skillfully deflects Pinch's plea to come live with him by saying it wouldn't be fair to Natalie and passes a devastating judgment on the boy's fledg ling paintings: "You're not an artist. And you never will be." Pinch goes to college in Toronto, planning to become an art historian and write his father's biography, and it seems this will be the story of an impossible parent destroying a vulnerable offspring, especially after Bear sabotages Pinch's first serious love affair and Pinch winds up teaching Italian at a Berlitz-style language school in London. But the balance of power between them shifts over the years in Rachman's subtle rendering. Bear's reputation goes into eclipse, and he confides the unsold paintings in his remote French cottage to Pinch, whom he trusts to protect his legacy. The way Pinch claims some turf for himself while remaining entangled in Bear's shadow leads to an ironic conclusion that also shimmers with love and regret. Pinch's best friend and late-in-life lover, two of the novel's many finely rendered secondary characters, drink a rueful toast to a man who refused to be anyone's victim—exce p t maybe his own. A sensitive look at complicated relationships that's especially notable for the fascinatingly conflicted protagonist. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Rome, 1955


Seated in a copper bathtub, Bear Bavinsky dunks his head under steaming water and shakes out his beard, flinging droplets across the art studio. He thumbs a bolt of shag into his pipe and flicks a brass Zippo lighter, sucking hard to draw down the flame, tobacco glowing devil-red, smoke coiling toward the wood-beam ceiling. He exhales and stands. Beads of water rain off his torso.

His five-year-old son, Pinch, hoists a thick bath towel, arms trembling under the weight. Bear runs his fingers through receding reddish-blond hair and—hand on the boy’s head for balance—steps onto newspapers previously used for wiping paintbrushes. His wet footprints bleed across the print, encircling dabs of oily blue and swipes of yellow.

“That’s final!” Natalie declares from across the studio, chewing her fingernail.

“Final, is it? You certain?” Bear asks his wife. “Not the slightest doubt?”

“All I’ve got is doubts.”

He proceeds to the iron front door and shoulders it open, dusky light from the alleyway pushing past him, glinting off glass pigment jars, illuminating abused paintbrushes in turpentine and canvases drying along the bare-brick walls. In the early-evening air, he stands in place, a fortyish male animal, naked but for the towel twisted around his neck, his shadow narrowing up the studio, hurdling the tub, darkening his wife and their little boy. “Absolutely positive then?”

Natalie yanks a strand of black hair over her eyes, wraps it around her baby finger, whose tip reddens. She darts into the WC at the back of the studio and closes the warped door, her head bumping the bare bulb, which alternates glare and gloom as she consults the mirror: emerald ball gown cinched at the waist, box-pleated skirt, polka-dot overlay. It’s as if she were wearing three outfits at once, none of them hers. She tucks her hair under a cream beret but it hardly helps, the same gawky twenty-six-year-old looking back, all elbows and knees, a manly jaw, deep- set black eyes, as uncertain as if drawn with smudged charcoal, the worry lines added in fine- nib pen.

She joins Bear, who remains naked in the doorway, a puff of smoke released from his pipe. “I’m not even acceptable,” she tells him, and he rests a rough palm against the swell of her bosom, firmly enough to quicken her pulse. He strides to his leather suitcase and plucks out neckties, one for himself, one for their son. Bear raises the louder tie, holding it up as if considering a mackerel. He sends Pinch to fetch the canvas shears, with which he snips one of the ties in half, twirling it around the boy’s neck. “What do you say, kiddo?” Bear grins, the beard rising to his eyes, which disappear into slits. “Natty, I love the hell out of you. And I listen the hell out of you. But damn it, sweetie, we are going.”

She clutches one hand in the other. “Well then, hurry!” she responds, quickstepping past her husband, nearly stumbling as she crouches to knot their son’s tie. Natalie touches Pinch’s forehead, her hand throbbing against his brow, jittery fingers like a secret message: “We waited all this time, Pinchy, and now he’s here!”

Bear, who moved in only weeks earlier, approaches his son, mussing the boy’s fine sandy hair (quite like Dad’s), playfully flicking the kid’s nervous chin (like his mother’s), while Pinch’s blue eyes (with an urgency all their own) gaze up, awaiting his father’s command.

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