The People in the Trees
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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.
Publishers Weekly Review
© Publishers Weekly
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.