The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (May 6, 2014)
Reading Sara Rating: 4/10
Amazon Book Description: It is 1950 when Norton Perina, a young doctor, embarks on an expedition to a remote Micronesian island in search of a rumored lost tribe. There he encounters a strange group of forest dwellers who appear to have attained a form of immortality that preserves the body but not the mind. Perina uncovers their secret and returns with it to America, where he soon finds great success. But his discovery has come at a terrible cost, not only for the islanders, but for Perina himself. Disquieting yet thrilling, The People in the Trees is an anthropological adventure story with a profound and tragic vision of what happens when cultures collide. It marks the debut of a remarkable new voice in American fiction.
Reading Sara Review: The People in the Trees was my final book from my Summer Reading Part 1 list. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I saved the best for last, but certainly saved the longest for last. I utilized the Amazon book description for this one because it not only gives a good synopsis, but I did not want to taint the synopsis with my opinion on the book.
Let me start by saying that a lot of people love this book. Yanagihara is more widely known this year for her newest novel, A Little Life, which I have also heard mixed reviews on – from people I trust on both sides. This novel won multiple awards the year it came out, and the reviews of it are mostly positive.
There are multiple layers to the story of Perina, and I think this novel was written with incredible thoughtfulness and detail. The description of the island (the sounds, nature, the smells, the people) was fantastic. I would read more novels by Yanagihara.
Calling The People in the Trees unsettling would be putting it mildly. This novel forces questions of morals, sexuality, trust, and science – none of which are easy. I don’t believe that I am the type of person who views the world in black and white, but for me, some things are right, and others are wrong. It was hard for me to ignore this.
Perina is not a likable character, even though it is his story that is told. My dislike of him is not why I disliked the book, though. The book could have gone in many different directions because it was such a fascinating and creative topic to uncover (immortality, mental health, information leading to the downfall of societies), but it was too dark for my taste. Maybe it should not have been on my summer reading list when I am seeking things that are more light-hearted or funny.
Again, the creativity of Yanagihara’s writing is incredible – she created an entire society, a culture and wrote beautiful passages about it. And again, a lot of other people loved this book. So, read it and let me know if I am too black and white to understand it!