Book Review: The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Book - The Italian Teacher by Tom RachmanWhat makes someone a great artist? The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman provides a fascinating answer to this question, as it tracks the life of Charles Bavinsky, known as ‘Pinch’, son of the great artist, Bear Bavinsky. It begins in Italy, when Pinch is just five years old, watching his father entertain the crowds, desperate for his affection and approval. His mother Natalie is also an artist, working with ceramics, but she is eclipsed by Bear’s extravagant personality, and her work always comes second to his.  

The story follows Pinch as he grows up, gradually becoming aware of numerous half-siblings who all crave attention from their famous father. Bear appears to abandon Natalie and move back to the US, after giving Pinch one memorable painting lesson. The two of them survive together, and Pinch grows up, becoming adept at languages and experimenting with his own painting, always secretly longing for his father’s approval.

Things don’t work out exactly as Pinch hopes, and he is devastated and hurt by his father’s lack of interest, yet always craving more, afraid to leave the comfort of Bear Bavinsky’s shadow. His relationship with his father affects every element of his life – his career, his friendships, his relationships with women, and his view of himself and his mother.

This is a book that really gets under your skin. The more I read, the more I wanted to get into the story and tell Pinch to stand up to his father, to live his own life. As Pinch grows older, he becomes more self-aware, realising just how much the legend of Bear Bavinsky has affected every aspect of who he is. He begins to turn things around, to make his own choices, and to reach out to others. But he soon becomes embroiled in an impossible situation, stuck with the consequences of his own actions and afraid of his father’s anger. Attempting to extricate himself from this impossible situation eventually leads to a dramatic stand-off, and a legacy that will continue long after Pinch himself has departed from the world.

This is not the most enjoyable of stories. In fact, it is extremely frustrating to read, though thrilling in its own way. But it does seriously question our ideas about art. Why are certain artists revered whilst others are overlooked? What has personality got to do with an artist’s reputation? And can the child of a celebrity ever truly become their own person? If you’re fascinated by the world of art then this book is for you.

Buy The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman here.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

If you enjoyed reading this review why not subscribe to my blog and get regular book reviews sent to your inbox?