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The People in the Trees

A Novel

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


Readers of exciting, challenging and visionary literary fiction—including admirers of Norman Rush's Mating, Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, and Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord—will be drawn to this astonishingly gripping and accomplished first novel. A decade in the writing, this is an anthropological adventure story that combines the visceral allure of a thriller with a profound and tragic vision of what happens when cultures collide. It is a book that instantly catapults Hanya Yanagihara into the company of young novelists who really, really matter.

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.

From Publishers Weekly

Jul 29, 2013 – 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 morally, aesthetically, and narratively. Yanagihara balances pulpy adventure tale excitement with serious consideration in unraveling her fantastical premise: a scientist, Norton Perina, discovers an island whose inhabitants may somehow have achieved immortality. Perina sets out on an anthropological mission that became more significant than he could have imagined. His tale raises interesting, if somewhat obvious, ethical questions; what can be justified in the name of science? How far does cultural relativism go? Is immortality really desirable? The book doesn't end with his astounding discovery, though. It continues with seeming banality to recount the predictable progression of academic honors that followed it and the swift and destructive attempt to commercialize Perina's findings. The story of Perina as a man emerges with less show but just as much gruesome fascination as that of his discovery and its results. Evidence of his character worms its way through the book in petulant asides and elided virulence, at first seeming incidental to the plot and then reflecting its moral themes on a small scale. Without making him a simple villain, Yanagihara shows how Perina's extraordinary circumstances allow his smothered weaknesses to blossom horribly. In the end, he reveals the full extent of his loathsomeness explicitly, unashamedly, convinced of his immutable moral right.

Customer Reviews

Passable, but not for everyone

Have you ever read a book with protagonist that you both hate and want to like at the same time? This is one of those books. The People in the Trees, which is loosely based on a true story, is about a Nobel prize winning scientist who discovers the key to immortality and, in the process, changes the lives of the inhabitants of a small island. In the decades following his breakthrough discovery, he adopts 40+ children from the small island from which the key to immorality rests, and in the end his goodwill proves to be his undoing.

Reading about scientists is a tricky thing. On the one hand, I hated the main character, Norton, for his treatment of lab animals and the people he discovered on the small island. He had no qualms with tying humans to trees or killing lab animals. But on the other hand, I don’t think he’s a malicious man, but rather that he is emotionally distant, incredibly rational (think Temperance Brennan from Bones), and absolutely brilliant. I also had to keep reminding myself that the book took place in the 1950′s, which was before they had rules in place for how to treat human subjects. It doesn’t make his actions right, but it does make them more understandable, under the circumstances.

As for whether or not I would recommend this book, I’m torn. If you’re a science buff or interested in undiscovered civilizations, then I say go for it. It is a great lesson in cultural relativism and the longterm effects of upsetting a natural environment. But if you’re looking for a heartwarming story, then this one isn’t for you. It’s steeped in reality and reality isn’t always pretty.

Not For Me

I made it halfway through the book but couldn’t finish it because I found the subject matter to be repulsive.

Such a great concept

The concept of this book is magnificent. The fact that it's based on a true story makes it even better. I appreciate books like this.

The People in the Trees
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Literary
  • Published: Aug 13, 2013
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 496 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings