Book Review: The People in the Trees: A Novel by Hanya Yanagihara (4.5/5)

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I’ve also been putting off this review for a while….

The People in the Trees is an anthropological thriller infused with adventure, discovery, science, the ethics of science and — most of all — deeply stirring moral questions. In 1950, anthropologist Paul Tallent calls for a young doctor to accompany him on his expedition to the isolated island Ivu’ivu. The med school sends the student at the bottom of the class, Norton Perina — brilliant, lazy, ambitious and arrogant. Little do they know, this expedition will change Perina’s life and touch the world.

While on the expedition, Tallent, Perina and Esme — the assistant Perina detests — discover immortal life amongst the island people. Perina selfishly smuggles back a turtle he suspects of containing the ingredients for immortality and soon wins the Nobel Prize for discovering Selene Syndrome.

But immortality is not all it seems… And it is as quickly lost as it’s found. The concept of immortality is very interesting. And it’s been talked of a lot in recent years; it’s builds on the theory of telomeres being the key to cancer and aging. In the meantime, Perina’s personal life collides with his professional identity. Is a great man still a great man even if he is not good?

The People in the Trees is absolutely shattering. It twists your emotions, plays on your sympathy for the main character, Perina. In the end, I just think Perina was such a broken person — with possibly sociopathic tendencies. It’s really a sad story for all involved, especially the children Perina adopted.

The message I’m taking from the book is: life is not just about the material things. Life is not about who lives the longest. Life is not always about what’s on the surface. There’s things underneath, there’s deep things. Life is about emotional fulfillment, growing into your potential. Perina was very wrong about so many things…but one thing I’ve got to point out (without ruining the story) is how he provided for his children. Sure, he rescued them from a third world society. Sure, he fed and clothed and paid for their college educations. But that’s not enough to raise a child. Perina never thought about his children’s emotional wellbeing and fulfillment. He placed things quite low on Maslow’s hierarchy. Mostly, he didn’t think about what he could do for his children. He only thought about what they could do for him. What emotional hole they could fill in his empty and unfulfilled life.

As an added bonus, Yanagihara’s writing style flows beautifully. No other author could have described the landscapes of Ivu’Ivu quite as well. Yanagihara is a master of the writing style. Every word, every phrase, every sentence…just feels so beautiful, so delicate.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Visit my blog for more reviews of up and coming books: https://rememberingwonderland.wordpress.com

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