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The People in the Treesby Hanya Yanagihara
A beautifully written debut novel. Based partially on the real life story of an anthropologist, the novel describes what happens when cultures collide and science interferes with nature. Though the islands that "The Dreamers" live on are not real, Yanagihara's story will have you thinking they are. This book is incredible; I've been recommending it to everyone I know!
The People in the Trees has done a thorough job of rattling me to the core, and several months after reading it, I still can't stop thinking about it. The book has so many things I love: an unreliable narrator, explosive endings, secrets, unlikable characters, a scientific bent, cultural clashes, an arrogant hero, and ordinary life depicted realistically. This is a tough book to love, yet I do... and I don't. Rarely has a book had me so torn, but this one has, and in stereo. I want to beg everyone I know to read it, because I desperately need to talk through this amazing, crazy, bizarre story with someone. The last 75 pages are absolutely riveting; I could not put it down!
Synopses & Reviews
Readers of exciting, challenging and visionary literary fiction — including admirers of Norman Rush's Mating, Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, and Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord — will be drawn to this astonishingly gripping and accomplished first novel. A decade in the writing, this is an anthropological adventure story that combines the visceral allure of a thriller with a profound and tragic vision of what happens when cultures collide. It is a book that instantly catapults Hanya Yanagihara into the company of young novelists who really, really matter.
In 1950, a young doctor called Norton Perina signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu'ivu in search of a rumored lost tribe. They succeed, finding not only that tribe but also a group of forest dwellers they dub "The Dreamers," who turn out to be fantastically long-lived but progressively more senile. Perina suspects the source of their longevity is a hard-to-find turtle; unable to resist the possibility of eternal life, he kills one and smuggles some meat back to the States. He scientifically proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize, but he soon discovers that its miraculous property comes at a terrible price. As things quickly spiral out of his control, his own demons take hold, with devastating personal consequences.
"Driven by Yanagihara's gorgeously complete imaginary ethnography on the one hand and, on the other, by her brilliantly detestable narrator, this debut novel is compelling on every level — morally, aesthetically, and narratively. Yanagihara balances pulpy adventure tale excitement with serious consideration in unraveling her fantastical premise: a scientist, Norton Perina, discovers an island whose inhabitants may somehow have achieved immortality. Perina sets out on an anthropological mission that became more significant than he could have imagined. His tale raises interesting, if somewhat obvious, ethical questions; what can be justified in the name of science? How far does cultural relativism go? Is immortality really desirable? The book doesn't end with his astounding discovery, though. It continues with seeming banality to recount the predictable progression of academic honors that followed it and the swift and destructive attempt to commercialize Perina's findings. The story of Perina as a man emerges with less show but just as much gruesome fascination as that of his discovery and its results. Evidence of his character worms its way through the book in petulant asides and elided virulence, at first seeming incidental to the plot and then reflecting its moral themes on a small scale. Without making him a simple villain, Yanagihara shows how Perina's extraordinary circumstances allow his smothered weaknesses to blossom horribly. In the end, he reveals the full extent of his loathsomeness explicitly, unashamedly, convinced of his immutable moral right. (Aug. 13)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"The People in the Trees is a haunting story of moral absolutes confounded by a seemingly empirical understanding of the merciless caprices of nature....A standout novel, a debut as thrilling as it is disturbing." The Wall Street Journal
"The People in the Trees is a multi-layered novel. It provokes discussions about science, morality and our obsession with youth. But it's also a deeply satisfying adventure story with a horrifying conclusion." Chicago Tribune
"Yanagihara presents a cautionary tale about what can happen when Western arrogance meets primeval culture." Kirkus Reviews
“The People in the Trees is a Nabokovian phantasmagoria, bound to raise serious, interesting, troubling questions. Hanya Yanagihara is a writer to watch." Madison Smartt Bell, author of The Color of Night and All Souls’ Rising
“The People in the Trees is not a first novel like other first novels. This is a big, soaring, old-school, super-absorbing vehicle into another world. It’s a mystery story, an ecological parable, a monstrous confession, and a fascinating consideration of moral relativism. Yanagihara’s narrator is misanthropic and grotesque, yet simultaneously magnetic; her prose is dazzling; and her book is a triumph of the imagination." Anthony Doerr, author of Four Seasons in Rome and The Shell Collector
"This is an engrossing, beautifully detailed, at times amazing (and shocking) novel, and right up my alley: a far-off and beautiful place in the Pacific, islanders living to their own drumbeat, earnest meddling outsiders, and a sticky outcome — the Fall, with a lot of science and passion behind it, and an impressive debut for Hanya Yanagihara. I loved this book.” Paul Theroux, author of The Lower River and The Great Railway Bazaar
About the Author
Formerly a member of the Vintage publicity department, Hanya Yanagihara is an editor-at-large at Conde Nast Traveler. She lives in New York City.
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