Review: Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma


I don’t know when Why We Came to the City defied my expectations but I am certain that it did.

A few months back, I came across a photo of this book on Instagram with a raving recommendation to read it, praising its wit, prose, and the overarching power of its storyline and I knew that I needed to pick it up.

I’m not a huge contemporary lit reader—I tend to stick to what I’m comfortable with, a.k.a. romance novels wrapped up nicely in the end with a bow (however, I’ve recently decided that I need to branch out in my literary endeavors.)

Upon purchasing this book, I think I expected it to deliver just that—a nicely pieced together tale of five college buds that explore the rollercoaster of life in the city and become lost along the way. This book turned out to be much more than that. It presented me with a thought-provoking, harshly realistic, and altogether moving novel.

The beauty of Jansma’s prose is one of the most striking parts of this novel. While reading, I constantly found myself pausing to audibly laugh at the witty humor he presents in the character of Jacob, whose skepticism of his surroundings kept me on my toes, or the deep, concerning question of mortality and what it means to live fully when faced with unexpected circumstances.

Not only was I left questioning philosophical questions for which I could never fathom an answer, but also the constant symbolism of the city remains one of my favorite parts of this novel. Despite each character’s diversity, the city has morphed them all into representatives of unbearable routine and atrocious normalcy. This, when challenged, brings about confusion, anxiety, and reluctance for the inevitable future.

Recently, someone asked me the question, “What stands out to you in literature?” and I had never really taken the time to think about it—however, Why We Came to the City helped me find answer. My greatest appreciation for literature lies in the unexpected. I love plot twists. I love stories that make you think, predict, and question; the stories I adore most are those that keep you turning pages into the wee hours of the morning promising yourself “just one more chapter”.

For me, that was Why We Came to the City.

The complaints that I have for this novel are quite miniscule in comparison to the novel’s achievements. I would say that some of the story occurred slowly—my interest peaked after the first hundred pages. I also found that sometimes the characters’ lives were described in so much detail that I would lose the subplot’s relevance to the overarching plot.

Besides this, I have no critiques.

Jansma’s work is truly refreshing. This novel is truthful, innovative, and thought provoking. The city—a metaphor for all that contains and colonizes us—remains a safe haven despite its turmoil and provokes hard-to-answer questions about the origins of our actions and the meaning behind them. Why We Came to the City has left me with new insights on loving deeply and living fully and for that, I am immensely appreciative.

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