Summary and book reviews of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara X
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 736 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 736 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement - and a great gift for its publisher.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever.

In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.

1

The eleventh apartment had only one closet, but it did have a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony, from which he could see a man sitting across the way, outdoors in only a T-shirt and shorts even though it was October, smoking. Willem held up a hand in greeting to him, but the man didn't wave back.

In the bedroom, Jude was accordioning the closet door, opening and shutting it, when Willem came in. "There's only one closet," he said.

"That's okay," Willem said. "I have nothing to put in it anyway."

"Neither do I." They smiled at each other. The agent from the building wandered in after them. "We'll take it," Jude told her.

But back at the agent's office, they were told they couldn't rent the apartment after all. "Why not?" Jude asked her.

"You don't make enough to cover six months' rent, and you don't have anything in savings," said the agent, suddenly terse. She had checked their credit and their bank accounts and had at last ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there." These memorable opening lines might belong to another brilliant novel (The Go-Between, by L. P. Hartley) but they could well form the essential scaffolding for A Little Life, a wrenching yet illuminating exploration of how child abuse can exert a suffocating grip on adulthood.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (924 words).

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Media Reviews

The Wall Street Journal
Here is an epic study of trauma and friendship written with such intelligence and depth of perception that it will be one of the benchmarks against which all other novels that broach those subjects (and they are legion) will be measured.

NPR
Yanagihara is superb at capturing the radiant moments of beauty, warmth and kindness that help redeem the bad stuff. In A Little Life, it's life's evanescent blessings that maybe, but only maybe, can save you.

Vogue
Spring's must-read novel... If [Yanagihara's] assured 2013 debut, The People in the Trees, a dark allegory of Western hubris, put her on the literary map, her massive new novel...signals the arrival of a major new voice in fiction.

San Francisco Chronicle
Astonishing... It’s not hyperbole to call this novel a masterwork—if anything that word is simply just too little for it.

Los Angeles Times
It's a testament to Yanagihara's ability that she can take such ugly material and make it beautiful.

The Huffington Post
[A] monument of empathy, and that alone makes this novel wondrous.

The Boston Globe
A Little Life floats all sorts of troubling questions about the responsibility of the individual to those nearest and dearest and the sometime futility of playing brother’s keeper. Those questions, accompanied by Yanagihara’s exquisitely imagined characters, will shadow your dreamscapes.

Publishers Weekly
There is real pleasure in following characters over such a long period, as they react to setbacks and successes, and, in some cases, change. By the time the characters reach their 50s and the story arrives at its moving conclusion, readers will be attached and find them very hard to forget.

Library Journal
Not all readers will embrace this work, given its intense subject. However, for those strong of stomach or bold enough to follow the characters' road of friendship, this heartbreaking story certainly won't be easily forgotten.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. The phrase 'tour de force' could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Reader Reviews

Sarah W.

Real love involves acceptance
This book served to challenge my ideas about friendship, love, romance and self-regard. The central characters are drawn in such a realistic fashion the reader is drawn into a world that is new, but often familiar, an existence that is both painful ...   Read More

Jen F.

Tender, achingly human
I listened to this book rather than read it, however, the writing style still was a page turner. Yanagihara created characters and relationships that were real, and circumstances that made me want more. It was so sad, but so good.

Susan Coene

A Short Love Letter to Hanya...
I don't want to go into detail about how much I truly loved this book (Davina knows, I told her I might be delayed with a review I am scheduled to due because I was reading "A Little Life" and could not put it down). The only reason why I ...   Read More

Kathy H.

Friendship is its own miracle
Brace yourself is right. There are no words available to do this lovely, sprawling book justice. It touched me and taught me and had me marveling at the beauty of love - seeing it in a completely different light. Jude St. Francis is a marvel - he at ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Novels That Feature Close-Knit Friends

One of the many astute portrayals in A Little Life is the closely knit group of friends to which Jude St. Francis, the haunted protagonist, belongs. While the literal coming-of-age happens during the teen years, it could be argued that college, for those who attend, is the real deal. It is a transformative experience for most people, and they forge friendships that form an essential support network when they are cast out into the real world. These relationships are more than the rose-colored variety as depicted by television sitcoms such as Friends. Indeed A Little Life follows its core group: Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm, over the course of three decades showing how the course of a life can bruise or fortify friendships.

Here are some ...

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