Summary and book reviews of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

By Kristopher Jansma

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2013,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2014,
    272 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

An inventive and witty debut about a young man's quest to become a writer and the misadventures in life and love that take him around the globe

From as early as he can remember, the hopelessly unreliable, yet hopelessly earnest, narrator of this ambitious debut novel has wanted to become a writer.

From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma's irresistible narrator will be inspired and haunted by the success of his greatest friend and rival in writing, the eccentric and brilliantly talented Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Julian's enchanting friend, Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. After the trio has a disastrous falling out, desperate to tell the truth in his writing and to figure out who he really is, Jansma's narrator finds himself caught in a never-ending web of lies.

As much a story about a young man and his friends trying to make their way in the world as a profoundly affecting exploration of the nature of truth and storytelling, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards will appeal to readers of Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists and Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad with its elegantly constructed exploration of the stories we tell to find out who we really are.

A Note from BookBrowse: The "Author's Note" reproduced below is not, as it first looks, a message from the author of the The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards but instead the opening chapter of the novel itself, written from the point of view of the book's fictional narrator.

Author's Note

The truth is beautiful. Without doubt; and so are lies.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've lost every book I've ever written. I lost the first one here in Terminal B, where I became a writer, twenty-eight years ago, in the after-school hours and on vacations while I waited for my mother to return from doling out honey-roasted peanuts at eighteen thousand feet.

I used to sit very quietly, right here, at Phil's Coffee Hub, under the watchful eye of Ms. Barlow, or bellied-up to the Formica countertop of W. W. Gould's Good Eats with Mrs. De Santos, or on a small stool inside the cramped Jewels, Jewels, Jewels! kiosk with Mrs. Nederhoffer. Now these people are all gone and I'm as old as...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What do you think is the significance of the title The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, and how do you think it relates to the novel as a whole?

  2. In his "Author's Note," how does Jansma set the tone for the remainder of the novel? What themes are introduced to which the story later returns?

  3. Why do you think Jansma's narrator chooses to conceal his identity behind a long series of aliases? How, if at all, would the novel have been different if the narrator had divulged his real name?

  4. The narrator posits that the writing of fiction boils down to the ability "to tell lies, for a living," and that "the best novelists make you believe, as you read, that their stories are real" (p. 129, p. 130). Do you believe that a great novelist is, in ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Kristopher Jansma's novel is a debut that shouldn't be missed. Readers who delight in high quality writing and who enjoy unusually structured novels will find this one a real gem, and I find myself eagerly looking forward to Jansma's next effort.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (1088 words).

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

A self-referential first novel about truth, plagiarism, identity and writer's block . . . Jansma has a ways to go before he can master postmodern technique.

Publishers Weekly

Jansma's characters deftly explore the blurred lines between fact and fiction, discovering the shades of truth that lie in between.

Library Journal

Jansma explores how events are shaped into a work of fiction while also showing how we weave the reality of our lives into our own personal narratives. Ultimately, he's concerned with discovering the truth ofthe self that lies both within and beneath that narrative. A smart, searching debut about art and identity.

Booklist

Starred Review. Canny, seductive and utterly transfixing...A first novel with the strength and agility of a great cat leaping through rings of fire.

Author Blurb Darin Strauss, author of More Than It Hurts You
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is my new exhibit A for the defense of literary fiction. A great read -- a must read. Kristopher Jasma is more than the real-deal. He's made himself, with this book, essential.

Author Blurb Stewart O'Nan, author of Last Night at the Lobster
Light and airy, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is a funhouse of a novel about the outsized ambitions of authors and the sneaky power of storytelling. Kristopher Jansma's debut is a whimsical round-the-world tour that recalls Calvino, Millhauser and The Confidence Man.

Author Blurb Mira Bartok, author of The Memory Palace, winner of the National Book Critic's Circle Award
Behold The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards: an eloquent, witty, and inventive debut novel about a promising young writer's persistent quest to reinvent himself. Kristopher Jansma masterfully explores the ways in which we lie in order to grasp the most inexplicable truths in art, life, and love. The protagonist is a trickster-artist and con artist alike; he is Houdini, Tom Ripleyand Hemingway rolled into one. But despite his web of lies, we can't help but root for him all the way to the end. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is a tour de force - a nest of Russian dolls, with stories within stories, each tale bringing us a little closer to some glimmer of the truth.

Reader Reviews
Nadja

Thinking caps required; reward is worth the effort!
I led a book club discussion on this book in May 2014. We read mostly literary fiction, and this is definitely right up our alley. To be honest, I had read the book, quickly, a couple months earlier, was confused on several plot elements, and would ...   Read More

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Famous Literary Spats

When famous figures spar, their words become part of the public record, particularly when those quarrelling are popular writers.

Ernest HemingwayErnest Hemingway, for example, was notorious for his antagonistic relationship with many of his contemporaries. While once close, he had a disagreement with his mentor Gertrude Stein over their differing opinions of Sherwood Anderson's works. As the friendship deteriorated, Stein published an unflattering portrait of Hemingway in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Hemingway countered with A Moveable Feast, in which he criticized Stein's writing for its use of "repetitions that a more conscientious and less lazy writer would have put in the waste basket."

William Faulkner was also critical of Hemingway....

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