The People in the Trees
By Hanya Yanagihara
(Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385536776, 384pp.)
Publication Date: August 13, 2013
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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.
Hanya Yanagihara lives in New York.
"One of the year's best books...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."
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"[The People in the Trees] is exhaustingly inventive and almost defiant in its refusal to offer redemption or solace—but that is arguable one of its virtues. As for Yanagihara, she is a writer to marvel at."
—The New York Times Book Review
"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."
"The People in the Trees is flawlessly paced and deeply nuanced—a gorgeous, meaty novel that is spellbinding, scandalous and supremely satisfying."
"Yanagihara presents a cautionary tale about what can happen when Western arrogance meets primeval culture."
"Whether you find yourself to be a champion of Perina's bold ideas or horrified by his actions or—more realistically—feel a measure of both, Yanagihara's twisted, audacious tale is as gripping as they come."
“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