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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Why We Came to the City

ISBN: 9780525426608

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: 2/16/2016

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 4 Stars

A sweeping, funny, and poignant novel about a tight-knit group of twentysomethings in New York whose lives are forever altered by an unexpected tragedy—from the widely acclaimed author of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

Five years after their college graduation, the devoted friends once known as “the Murphys” remain as inseparable as ever. There's Sara Sherman, an editor and social butterfly; George Murphy, her caring, if troubled, astronomer boyfriend; Jacob Blaumann, a poet manqué and their loudmouth third wheel; William Cho, an awkward but well-meaning investment banker; and Irene Richmond, an enigmatic, immensely talented artist. As this absorbing novel opens in December 2008, they are making their way through heavy snowfall to gather at a lavish art world holiday party. But for all the glitz and glamor, the festivities mark a more momentous evening than any of them realize. Irene will first notice a curious lump under her eye. William will fall desperately in love with her. And George will, at long last, ask Sara to marry him.

Over the years that follow, this cast of rich, warmly drawn characters scrape by chasing their dreams in Great Recession New York. They watch acquaintances drop like flies and cling ever tighter to one another. When a devastating blow threatens to tear them irreparably apart, they must struggle to carry on together. A powerful and transfixing follow-up to Kristopher Jansma's celebrated debut, Why We Came to the City paints a portrait of a generation and tells an unforgettable story of hope, love, and friendship.

My Review

Kristopher Jansma's follows with his second novel, WHY WE CAME TO THE CITY, a poignant, coming-of-age tale, of five twenty-something friends after 9/11 in New York City. Beginning at the onset of the 2008 financial crisis—recession; from tragedy, life, loss, grief, and friendship. A journey to adulthood. A dream. Success. Failure. Misfortune. Crisis. Loss. Grief. The ashes. Survival. Mortality. A city can take from us and give. Sometimes we need to say good-bye. Both personal and professionally. My city is not your city. A different city than the one we knew. What happened to the city fifty years before? A city where we lost and loved. New York has always been about the American dream. Jansma writes with stunning literary prose, with deep insights, mixed with humor-- a close group of friends. Five years after college: They are flawed. Sara- editor; boyfriend astronomer -George, poet -Jacob, investment banker-William, and Irene, artist. They are at a party toasting the new year. However, as they make their way through the city -- life’s unexpected twists. turns, and tragedies. Irene is diagnosed with bone cancer and forced to undergo draining chemotherapy sessions. They each confront their own demons, fears, and issues. Rethinking and exploring their dreams, ambitions, hopes, love, careers, and aspirations. If there could be a do over. Time. How to be someone new. Get through the tough times with support of one another. From the romance with the city, love, passion, and cancer. How the cancer and surrounding elements affect the group--grief, discovery, reconciliation. As mentioned in several online articles, the storyline reflects similarities of the author’s personal life from moving to New York City as a young man, grad school at Columbia, fell in love and got married, and – along with his fiancé – cared for his sister in his cramped one-bedroom apartment as she battled cancer. His ever-changing relationship with the city while considering moving to the suburbs. Not only is the book related to New York City, the themes and experiences are relevant to cities everywhere. “We came to the city because we wished to live haphazardly, to reach for only the least realistic of our desires, and to see if we could not learn what our failures had to teach, and not, when we came to live, discover that we had never died.” Life can be based on Idealism (based on a conception of things as they should be, or wish them to be with a tendency to be imaginary or visionary), OR Realism (based on a conception of things as they are, regardless of how one wants them to be---practical and pragmatic. These perspectives also have an impact on how individuals deal with success or failure in their lives. It is very rare to find someone who is a complete and absolute idealist or realist. Events in our life change our perspectives. Beautifully written, moving, and absorbing will make the reader reflect upon the moment, and appreciate life and those around you --in the present. I listened to the audiobook, and Edoardo Ballerini delivered an engaging performance.

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About the Author

Kristopher grew up in Lincroft, New Jersey. He received his B.A. in The Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Columbia University. His critically-acclaimed debut novel, THE UNCHANGEABLE SPOTS OF LEOPARDS, was published by Viking/Penguin in 2013.

He is the winner of the 2014 Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award.

THE UNCHANGEABLE SPOTS OF LEOPARDS was an Honorable Mention for the PEN/Hemingway Prize, a finalist for the Prix de l’Inapperçu, and longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Award for Excellence in Fiction and the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. It was a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick, an ABA “Indie Next” Choice, an ALA Notable Book, and an Alternate Selection for the Book of the Month Club.

The novel has been translated into German, French, Italian, Dutch, Czech and Turkish.

He has written a column for Electric Literature about Literary Artifacts, and loving books in a digital age. His work has also been published in The New York Times (twice!), Columbia Magazine,The Believer, Slice Magazine, the Blue Mesa Review, and on The Millions.

He is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at SUNY New Paltz College and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son. Read More

Photo from Paper Magazine; Author Photo by Roy Gumpel

Advance Praise

“Enticing … Much like a modern Great Gatsby, this book is awash in the feeling of the city.” —Melissa Ragsdale, Bustle

“Fans of Bret Easton Ellis’s stream-of-consciousness narratives will enjoy Jasma’s paean to New York City.”—In Style

“Joyful and tragic, Jansma’s book will appeal to readers who loved Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life.”—Men’s Journal

“…a deeply emotional ode to friendship—to the people who make you feel alive and who you follow without question and to the bonds that endure, even if only in memory.“—Kirkus Review

“Compelling… searing… Tightly-written, smartly conceived.“—Publisher’s Weekly

“Lively and elegant … poised to make Jansma a name you know.”—Bustle

“This hefty novel, with its multiple characters and shifting relationships, is the kind that book clubs will love… . Gets at the heart of what it’s like to be young and alive in the big city.”—Library Journal

”Why We Came to the City is a tremendous accomplishment: an elegant and deeply moving meditation on friendship and mortality, both fearless and finely wrought. I believe this book will stay with me for a very long time.“—Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven

“Kristopher Jansma’s dazzling Why We Came to the City is at once a tribute and a breakup letter to New York, timeless as the elegant architectural details that jut ornately from older buildings, yet timely as a phone freighted with an urgent missive. The constellation of relationships he charts feels so vivid and visceral that we not only see it but find ourselves caught, swaying in its gravitational tugs and tilts. In page after page abounding with wit, candor, and compassion, Jansma reveals the indelible nature of our connections and commitments to one another, along with their gossamer fragility.”—Tim Horvath, author of Understories

“Fantastic. This beautiful, boisterous novel is a paean to New York, to the hubris of youthful optimism, and, especially, to the powerful magnet of friendship. It’s full of as much heartache and humor as the city itself. And like the city, this story will break you apart in a dozen ways, only to teach you, tenderly, how to put yourself back together. I wanted it never to end, but when I read the last page, I loved it even more. Jansma is a star.”—Alena Graedon, author of The Word Exchange

“Like A Little Life and The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Jansma’s Why We Came to the City shows us, with beauty and insight, what it’s like to be young and smart in this time, and in this place. It’s a major achievement.” —Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life

“Why did we come to the city, anyway? And why on earth would we ever leave? In Jansma’s able hands, these are and are not metaphors. We came because we are more ourselves as part of a collective. We came to learn our limits. We came so that we might know when to leave. This is a lively, addictive party of a book, and you’re invited.“ —Elisa Albert, author of After Birth






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