“The truth is beautiful. Without a doubt; and so are lies” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
So begins The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma, a beautiful book about an unnamed, unreliable narrator whose life centers around his numerous attempts to make it as a writer while pining over The One Who Got Away and dealing with the his jealousy of his longtime friend, the now successful writer. Crafted in twelve sections, the unnamed–or rather, differently named–narrator tells stories of his life, leaving the reader to decide what, exactly, is the Truth.
While I love the way Jansma toys with the difference between truth and Truth on varying levels–from telling a story and filling in a few holes to actually impersonating someone else–the part I most delighted in was one of the final settings of the book, Luxembourg City. Having spent four months living in the city, it was almost surreal to read descriptions of a place I saw through the seasons. Jansma’s description here is, from my experience, pretty accurate–right down to the commemorative plates and mugs sold after a Grand Ducal wedding. He used the setting as a way to highlight the contrast between old and the new, which is definitely a defining feature of Luxembourg City–the way the fortress walls exist next to high-end stores or the headquarters for Amazon are located in an otherwise quaint part of the city. Ultimately, though, this book isn’t about Luxembourg. Instead, it’s about the creative process, the way we decide how something is true, and how we come to understand both our emotions and ourselves.
Jansma’s narrative style–one that jumps around a bit and leaves much of the navigating to the reader–reminds me of one of my favorite books, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Both books weave together stories–in this case, stories from the same narrator, although at different points in his life and with different names and specifics–that ultimately work toward a unifying story. They are the kind of books that leave you satisfied at the end, but also wanting to read it all over again because you just know you’ll get so much more out of it the second time. It’s the same sort of book that you don’t want to talk about too much, because you don’t want to spill anything that would take away from the process of uncovering the story for yourself.