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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Book Review: Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri (3.5/5)

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Surviving the Angel of Death is the story of a Holocaust survivor, Eva Mozes Kor. At age 10, Eva and her twin sister Miriam become a set of Dr. Mengele’s experimental “twins.” In the hopes of making an important scientific discovery, Dr. Mengele performs horrifying experiments on twins, dwarfs, gypsies and the handicapped. Upon arrival at the concentration camp Auschwitz, the Nazis separate 10-year-old twins Eva and Miriam from the rest of their family. Weakened with unsanitary conditions, humiliation, abuse, famine, and the unspeakable atrocities of Dr. Mengele’s experiments, Eva and Miriam swear to survive.

 When Dr. Mengele injects the sets of twins with different viruses and diseases, Eva falls sick. At the weakest point in her life, she is left to die in the infamous “Infirmary.” Denied medicine, care and water, Eva relies on her inner courage and love for her sister, Miriam.

 As a story and memoir, Surviving the Angel of Death is heartrending, tragic and full of hope.  While it’s written for the YA audience, I believe the writing style and voice might be more appropriate for children. The book isn’t exactly written as a “novel” with scenes…I do wish it was written differently. The book consists of mostly “telling” rather than “showing” – more remembrances than detailed “scenes”. But that doesn’t make it less touching. Told from the viewpoint of a once-feisty 10-year-old, Surviving the Angel of Death stirs our hearts and souls. We can only hope that Eva’s personality and determination survives the horrors she and Miriam endure.  

 I commend Eva Mozes Kor for having the courage to tell her story, to revisit the memories inflicted upon her 10-year-old self, and finally, to forgive. The Holocaust is a terribly inhumane chapter in the history of humanity – but it will always a part of our collective history. Something that should never be forgotten. And Surviving the Holocaust cements this chapter of history in the voice of a 10-year-old survivor.