The Italian Teacher

The Italian Teacher

Book - 2018
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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 examination of love, duty, art and fame, The Italian Teacher cements Tom Rachman as among this generation's most exciting literary voices.
Publisher: New York, New York : Viking, [2018]
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9780735222694
Characteristics: 341 pages ; 24 cm
Call Number: RACHMAN, T


From Library Staff

Genre: historical; Italy. Excerpt from Kirkus Reviews: "In his poignant latest, Rachman (The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, 2014, etc.) examines a life dominated by someone else’s art... A sensitive look at complicated relationships that’s especially notable for the fascinatingly conflicte... Read More »

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CALS_Lee Apr 28, 2020

It’s awfully easy to satirize the uppermost layer of the market for contemporary art, where new works by name artists sell for millions to hedge fund managers and Russian oligarchs. Which isn’t to say doing so would be wrong. When a market shaping dealer in this novel is credited with the quip, “Success in art is fifty percent timing, fifty percent geography. The rest is talent”, it’s funny because it seems true.

Within that rarified community of artists, collectors, and dealers, one suspects, are more than a few raging narcissists. “Bear” Bavinsky certainly qualifies. He passes through the novel trampling over the well-being of his wives (7 or 8 of them in succession) and children (more than a dozen), leaving emotional carnage in his wake. Thankfully for the reader the novel’s focus is not on him but on his son Charles, aka Pinch.

Pinch struggles with a desperate need for his narcissistic father’s attention and approval, which can never be held with anything more than the most tenuous grip, and with often painful results. It’s almost enough to make one feel sorry for others who seem to be in a similar place, like, maybe, Eric Trump perhaps. They sometimes behave badly; they are badly damaged. But Pinch hopes that by finding a way to make himself useful to his father, and to his father’s identity, he will matter.

Of course it’s not to be. No matter who you are, you can never be important to a narcissist, not really. “Hear this. You work for me. Get it? You always worked for me,” Bear spits at Pinch, as he ultimately ejects Pinch from his life. “I win. You hear? I fucking win.”

The novel continues on from that point and Pinch proceeds to pull a fast one on the art world, a line of action which seems to have some believability issues, but hey, might could happen, never know. It’s fun to root for him, anyway. Later in life, on his deathbed, Pinch reaches an acceptance that feels real, and full of a grace we should all grant ourselves:

"And his own life? Viewed at any point along the way, it seemed to Pinch to have so little direction. But from the present vantage, what happened feels inevitable - not because events were beyond his control but because they were within it. He couldn’t have been other than he was. That doesn’t hurt anymore. Just another ant, marching up and down."

Dec 15, 2019

This novel is narrated by the son of a larger than life American artist who is selfish, uncaring and concerned only about his legacy. In the end, the son is a greater artist than his father. The book is an exposé of the world of artists and dealers. Like Rachman's other novels, this is a middle of the road effort.

Jul 01, 2019

The influence of family on a person was made plain by Rachman and speaks to the notion of fate being determined not necessarily by something mystical and unseen but by lineage and family history. I think while the story is largely about Pinch's relationship with and desired approval from his father, it is also about the long lasting influence of his mother on him. It was clear that what kept Pinch in the shadows for so long was that he actual struggled within himself to decide where his allegiance lay between these two forces and this mired his life in self-doubt and indecision. I found the writing nuanced and honest and was happy to see a real, nuanced protagonist. I also appreciate the way the author addresses the theme of success when it comes to aesthetics and appreciation of "high art'. However, it is ultimately the imperfection of the characters and their complicated, so honestly portrayed, that makes this story to so compelling.

Apr 11, 2019

Just couldn’t get into it.

Jan 20, 2019

Pinch Bavinsky has always lived in his father's shadow. In fact that was kind of his dream. First to be his apprentice, later to be his biographer, using his own career to shine a light on his father. But things don't work out as he planned.

The Italian Teacher is mostly Pinch's story, and it is richly drawn. I felt like I had traveled to Europe and New York and immersed myself for a time in the art world when I was done. It took me a while to get into it, but ultimately I'm glad I did. It is literary fiction, and it does try to ask bigger questions about art and legacy.

Nov 18, 2018

I found this book to be interesting and funny. The author caught the 'art world' dead on and exposed the many flaws, absurdities, and corruption around the marketing of works of art. The larger than life personality of the artist and the life’s around him destroyed by his vanity, selfishness, and celebrity were well done – Picasso, Dali, and Miro were all called to mind. The main protagonist is weirdly compelling and endearing, his voice is honest and sad, but the outcome is glorious.

Martha C Benner
Sep 20, 2018

Could not get into this one at all. I kept trying but it seemed weird to me or I am missing something.

suzannethomas Jul 23, 2018

Not knowing this author, I was attracted to this book by its description; a story about art, artists, art critics -and it didn’t disappoint! But it’s also a morality tale about fame and family, the power of art and perils of progeny.

VaughanPLAlyssia May 27, 2018

I’m of two minds about this book, because I loved the first three quarters or so but found it went in a weird and, quite frankly, boring direction towards the end. I don’t know how it happened so quickly. I think it’s because Pinch becomes more isolated, and I just don’t find him a compelling character on his own. He’s a man who’s never grown out of father’s shadow; all of his self-identity is tied to his relationship with his father. As Pinch gets older it becomes harder to root for him when he is still so dependent. But aside from that, I greatly enjoyed most of this novel. I’m a sucker for books about artists, and I won’t lie and say I wasn’t drawn to this book by its gorgeous cover. Tom Rachman’s writing is perfunctory (no frills) but his characters (aside from Pinch) are all vivid, from Bear to Natalie to Pinch’s friends in Toronto. He also really brings to life a sense of place, particularly the segment in Rome.

May 23, 2018

Is the Art great enough to forgive the artist his trespasses? Should a person earn respect as a human being before deserving attention for his work? Bold, handsome, charismatic, Bear Bavinsky is the Sun, the Moon and the Stars to his son. Unfortunately, the Great Man not only is not so great, he does not deserve the love and support, nor the time, energy and oxygen that his acolytes sacrifice to make his life easy. You feel sorry for Pinch Bavinsky, empathize with his blindness to his father’s flaws, and become angry and frustrated with him for being so dismissive of the kindness and goodness of the other people in his life. We are all lacking in perception from time to time, sometimes fatally so. In Pinch’s case, he could easily live a lifetime of fear and furtiveness, ashamed of his own talent and unable to express himself freely. Will he survive? With humor and compassion, Rachman’s novel delves into the power of the forceful creative personality, the rules of family loyalty, and forgiveness it takes to be true to yourself at last.

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