Summary and book reviews of The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

The People in the Trees

A Novel

By Hanya Yanagihara

The People in the Trees
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2013,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: 6 May 2014,
    608 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

I.

I was born in 1924 near Lindon, Indiana, the sort of small, unremarkable rural town that some twenty years before my birth had begun to duplicate itself, quietly but insistently, across the Midwest. By which I mean that the town, as I remember it, was exceptional only for its very lack of distinguishing details. There were silos, and red barns (most of the residents were farmers), and general stores, and churches, and ministers and doctors and teachers and men and women and children: an outline for an American society, but one with no flourishes, no decoration, no accessories. There were a few drunks, and a resident madman, and dogs and cats, and a county fair that was held in tandem with Locust, an incorporated town a few miles to the west that no longer exists. The townspeople--there were eighteen hundred of us--were born, and went to school, and did chores, and became farmers, and married Lindonites, and began families of their own. When you saw someone in the street, you'd ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The wonders of new worlds are enticing – and when these are described in minute, mesmerizing detail as Yangiraha does, they make for an engrossing page-turner. In The People In the Trees, we are transported from the clinical, sterile environment of the research laboratory where Perina works, to the lush green environs of the untouched wild. Such is Yanagihara's power over the written word that the journey is vivid and atmospheric; we are with the expedition every step of the way.   (Reviewed by Amodini Sharma).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Madison Smartt Bell, author of The Color of Night and All Souls' Rising
The People in the Trees is a Nabokovian phantasmagoria, bound to raise serious, interesting, troubling questions.  Hanya Yanagihara is a writer to watch."

Author Blurb Anthony Doerr, author of Four Seasons in Rome and The Shell Collector
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.

Author Blurb Paul Theroux, author of The Lower River and The Great Railway Bazaar
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.

Library Journal

Yanagihara's work, which appears to be loosely based on the life of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, is fast-moving and intriguing, although it does darken toward the end. Yanagihara is definitely an author to watch.

Booklist

Perina is a delightfully black-hearted protagonist trapped inside Yanagihara's unfortunately inelegant prose.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Yanagihara presents a cautionary tale about what can happen when Western arrogance meets primaeval culture.

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Micronesia

In The People of The Trees, Perina and Tallent journey to the fictional Micronesian states of U'ivu and Ivu'ivu. While these particular islands are fictitious, the region of Micronesia, literally "small island" in Greek is composed of thousands of small islands in the western Pacific Ocean, north of Australia.

Micronesia

From 1947, most of the nearly 2,500 islands that make up Micronesia were administered by the United States as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1986, the Trust Territory was dissolved into four constitutional governments: the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Belau (Palau), the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. All four have continuing political ...

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