The People in the Trees
The Stunning First Novel from the Author of A Little Life
The stunning debut novel, from the author of A Little Life.
It is 1950 when Norton Perina, a young doctor, embarks on an expedition to a remote Micronesian island in search of a rumoured 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.
Hanya Yanagihara's The People in the Trees marks the debut of a remarkable new voice in American fiction.
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.