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Why We Came to the City

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  2,260 ratings  ·  302 reviews
A warm, funny, and heartfelt novel about a tight-knit group of twentysomethings in New York whose lives are upended by tragedy—from the widely acclaimed author of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

December, 2008. A heavy snowstorm is blowing through Manhattan and the economy is on the brink of collapse, but none of that matters to a handful of guests at a posh holiday part
Hardcover, 418 pages
Published February 16th 2016 by Viking
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(4.5) Five university friends strive to make their lives count against the indifferent backdrop of recession-era New York City. When one of them falls ill, they pull together like a family. The tone of the novel lies somewhere between A Little Life and the sitcom Friends (a Mexican version of which the characters watch obsessively). Even as his characters realize that they are not special and not in control of their lives, Jansma never lets his book descend too far into gloom. This narrowly ...more
Larry H
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'd rate this 4.5 stars.

The four of them were pretty much inseparable since they met in college several years ago—Sara, the editor who tried to control the group's every movement; her boyfriend George, the sweet yet anxious astronomer; Jacob, the poet, larger than life but unsure of what life he wanted; and Irene, the artist, flighty yet passionate, who has done all she could to put her past behind her.

"Back in Ithaca, these four had traveled nearly everywhere as a pack. While every other colleg
Jessica J.
Oct 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: general-fiction
Oh goodness, Kristopher Jansma, I love you so. 4.5 stars.

Kristopher Jansma’s first novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards was one of the best books I read in 2013. I thought it was brilliant, clever and multilayered, with so much to parse and tease apart. So I was incredibly excited when his follow-up was announced.

This book has been compared to A Little Life, but I think that’s a factor of timing as much as anything else. For me, Yanigahara's never-ending tome wasn’t really about “four cha
I suspect many will adore this book, and I'm at peace with that; it certainly has its merits, but overall it just didn't resonate for me. Its attempt to tell an epic, friends-coming-of-age-in-NYC story to me felt overblown, sentimental, long-winded, and tangential. One of its too-many points might be that you grow up and out of the angst and promise and rubble of your 20s; similarly, I felt I was well over the book long before I finished it.

Perhaps the weak link for me is that the story centers
Feb 29, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: reviewed
Oh man, it’s been a long time since I struggled so much with a book. It seemed good – an acclaimed author, NYC (my favourite city), and a group of friends. What could go wrong?

First, the friends are introduced so rapidly that it is entirely overwhelming. It is hard to keep track of them, because although they are very different (the science nerd, the artist, etc), their voices are so alike; and are switched between in rapid fire.

This is a character-centered novel (rather than plot-centric), but
Jul 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I was worried starting this novel. Everywhere I turned reviewers were comparing it to The Interestings, which I found painfully overwritten and not all that interesting. But I really loved Jansma's first novel, so I delved in.

I'll say first-off that I get the comparisons. This novel has that same almost-hipster, extremely self-aware, deep-thinking language revolving around the particular pathos of 20-somethings determined to squeeze meaning out of everything. And, they're artists! But the differ
Chris Blocker
Jun 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A few years back, I had the great fortune of receiving an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of Kristopher Jansma's The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. I enjoyed it. It was filled with breathtaking sentences and magic. The structure, the metafictional elements, the style—it all reminded me a tad of David Mitchell, but in no way did I feel Jansma was trying to emulate Mitchell; Jansma had a voice all his own. I was hooked.

So I was excited to get my hands on a copy of Jansma's follow-up, Why We Came to th
May 14, 2016 rated it did not like it
Pretentious and in love with itself for no ostensible reason.
"WHY WE CAME TO THE CITY" is a story for the millennial generation with its focus on 4 people (George, Sara, Jacob, and Irene) whose familial bonds as friends were forged at university in the late 1990s and reaffirmed at an annual holiday party at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan in late December 2008. I don't usually read fiction that is contemporary or close enough to the present because the genre doesn't interest me very much. But I leafed through a few pages of this novel one day in a local ...more
Mar 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book ... might well prove to be my favorite novel of 2016, although the year is still young. Comparisons to 'A Little Life' are apt in that, like Yanagihara's book, you really LIVE inside these characters and share their dreams, turmoil and peccadilloes right alongside them; and the plot also revolves around a group of friends all coming to the aid of one of their own who is terminally ailing. Where it differs is that this has some much needed humor, whereas 'Life' is almost relentles ...more
Aaron Koelker
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Jansma's previous book, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is commonly described as a something written by Fitzgerald or Hemingway and directed by Wes Anderson. It's Sun Also Rises, Moveable Feast, or This Side of Paradise with an actual plot. It's quirky, surreal and fun. It's entertaining. I like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but Leopards reminded me that literature can have something to say and still be exciting. No zombies, spaceships, or giant squid required.

Why We Came to the City is somethin
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is everything that I love: a story about college friends, a New York story, a story about the family we make and a love story. It's tender and witty and marvellous. Part one is perfection. My only criticism is regarding some aspects of part 2, namely the Jacob section being too long (and the use of Homer's The Illiad draghing in parts) and the William section not quite working for me. But the wedding is perfection as is the ending. Jansma's storytelling is first rate and I completely l ...more
Feb 03, 2016 rated it really liked it

Absolutely beautiful.
May 01, 2016 rated it did not like it
I couldn't finish this book. Maybe it was because I was listening to it through Audible, but I didn't connect with the characters enough to finish listening to it. It was definitely not my favorite. ...more
Mar 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
"No one was special and no one was immune to tragedy.”

There's been this annoying trend in contemporary literature lately- I don't know what to call it, to be quite honest. Basically, writers have taken on the habit of writing long, senseless novels discussing the disillusionment and unhappiness of the Millennial generation. The novel Everybody Rise is a good example of this. The formula rarely works in my opinion. My cynical side believes that since my generation hasn't faced a World War or a De
Mar 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-reads
I liked this one but didn't love it. Part of it was the book; part of it was me. About 1/3 of the way into it, I had to put it down for about two weeks to bang out three other books for a project so I definitely lost my momentum. I got right back into it and read steadily after that but that break definitely threw me off my rhythm.

Now to the book. Solid story of college friends a la The Secret History or even, perhaps, a less-fraught A Little Life. Most of the characters were well-developed and
Alysyn Reinhardt
Jan 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
You can see my full review by clicking here.

I instantly fell in love with the first few introductory pages. I’m a sucker for any story that centers around a group of borderline abnormally close friends.

The book strikes a good balance between being funny & solemn. After the first chapter, you get the sort of feeling that the weekend’s over & it’s time to go back to reality. From that point on it’s day to day life until a climax about half of the way through. I don’t want to spoil much, but I love
Mar 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
I really enjoyed reading this, especially the second half. I found that half, where the characters deal with what happens in the first half, much more absorbing, especially, I think, William's story.

Several people have made comparisons with A Little Life. And it is like that but without the unrelenting pain. It also put me in mind of The Interestings which is another similar book about a group of friends in the city moving into adulthood together.

Jansma can certainly write and all his characters
Fan Liu
May 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Why We Came to the City follows the life of young millenials as they try to navigate their lives in New York City, including the people, obstacles that are thrown their way. Particularly, they are trying to navigate the illness of their friend, Irene, who is diagnosed with cancer, and the different ways grief is dealt with in different lives. The novel does an excellent job with characterizing the individual friends so you understand their personalities. I fell in love with all of the characters ...more
Apr 04, 2016 rated it liked it
I don't quite know what I think of this book. It was an easy read, and had some beautifully written sentences and a few emotional insights. But I never stopped being very aware that everything that was happening was by the author's design. Nothing in the novel felt very believable, but that maybe wouldn't have bothered me so much if it least seemed consistent to the universe of the novel itself but a lot of it didn't. And I felt like there were a lot of heavy bits of character development that w ...more
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Jansma brings fine writing and a bit of panache to the coming-of-age-in-a-Big-City genre with his second novel, WHY WE CAME TO THE CITY. Four intensely close college friends are settled in New York City and, for the most part, focused on bright futures. When tragedy strikes, it upends everyone's life.

At times the writing is a bit over-wrought but not enough to detract from the plot and characters. Recommended especially for those who enjoyed THE EMPEROR'S CHILDREN by Claire Messud; THE GOODLIFE
Mar 22, 2016 rated it did not like it
I'm sorry but no. Did not like this book. This book belongs in a new genre I think I'll call, "books only a New Yorker could love". In this genre will be every book about disillusioned young people who moved to NYC in hopes of a dazzling career & whose main accomplishments are drinking. Not worth my time. ...more
Jun 01, 2016 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Trying to decide whether to give it 3 stars or 4. It was really like a 3.5. While so many things about this book were right, there were other things that dragged it down. Starting with that it could have been ferociously edited and 50 pages shorter. Anyhow, I want to write a more complete review when I have had a chance to ponder it a little longer.
I love books about old college friends finding their way in New York City. Something about the indulgence and broad possibilities of it and the quirky personalities of the characters all manifesting in the splendor of New York City. Before the yokes of adulthood set in, and in a city where literally anything is possible and that never sleeps -- I find this setting very appealing. This book not only fit that but was well written and well done. I learned a lot about astronomy actually from this bo ...more
Angela C
(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

During the first few chapters of Why We Came To The City, I feared this book and I weren’t going to be a good match. The sweeping, grandiose prose was too contrived, the characters too unrelatable. As I read on, however, I discovered there were two levels to this story. The lofty, contemplative level of philosophy and grandiloquence, the level at which the book started, didn’t do any
Shawn MacDonald
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction, especially this year when I have devoted so much of my reading time to George Smiley, James Bond, Hercules Poirot, and Dexter. I happened across this book one day and it sounded pretty good. I checked and it was available at the library so I just decided to give it a shot and I'm really glad I did. I really loved the book and look forward to reading more by Kristopher Jansma. ...more
Leif Nesse
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Captures the essence of true friendship

Although I liked Mr. Jansma's novel Unchangeable Spots of Leopards more...this was a truly engaging book that focuses on those lifelong friends we make or the brief, but powerful, relationships we encounter in our lives.
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is... beautiful.
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I think that there are some fair critiques directed at this book: there's some flatness, in some respects, to the characters. But it wasn't enough to detract from a touching story that sticks with you. And the poem or vignette or piece that laces through the book is so stunning that I read it twice through on each reading, and then went BACK. Overall, top notch. ...more
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My second novel "Why We Came to the City" has been called "a beautiful, sprawling and generous book [..] a heartfelt novel, tender and painful and cathartic all at once.” (Michael Schaub, NPR Books) and a "wonderful, unforgettable novel [...] which leads to profound questions about causes and what comes next.“ (Kit Reed, The Miami Herald).

My previous novel, "The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards" has

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