Thursday, May 29, 2014

The People in the Trees (Hanya Yanagihara)

After reviewing almost 200 books on 1776books, Hanya Yanagihara's debut novel, The People in the Trees, has proven to be the most difficult one to write. I try my absolute best to have an open mind and give every book a totally fair review.  So while many reviewers on Goodreads have given this novel  poor write-ups because of its dark, repulsive subject matter, I firmly believe that a reviewer should critique the book's writing and story as a whole, trying not to let their personal viewpoints affect them.  So my beef with The People in the Trees isn't with the disgusting revelations per se but that they seemed so disjointed with the rest of the book; therefore, seeming to have no place in it.

Even though The People in the Trees is based loosely on a true story, Yanagihara tries hard to make the reader forget that this particular work is fiction.  During a brief, biased introduction by Dr. Norton Perina's colleague/editor Ronald Kubodera, we find out that Perina has been sent to jail for child molestation.  He is encouraged to write his memoirs as a world-renowned, Nobel Prize winning scientist behind bars, and so begins the reader's journey through his life story (with footnotes by Kubodera).  As a young man out of medical school, Perina was asked to go to a far-away island to find inhabitants who were rumored to have eternal life.  This, in itself, is fascinating, and the type of book I thought I was getting based on the synopsis.  Perina ingrained himself with the island villagers, but his adventures also bring up many ethical questions (again, great for discussion).  Throughout his many island visits throughout his life, he kept adopting children there and bringing them home.  It's here where the book gets incredibly disturbing but also very disconnected from the rest of the narrative.

Yanagihara's writing style is filled with beautiful language, and if she had just stayed with the question of eternal life, that would have made for an enchanting read.  Unfortunately, she chose to create something else entirely, and this repulsive part did not fit in with the rest of the book.