The People in the Trees Paperback – 2 Jan 2014
|New from||Used from|
|Paperback, 2 Jan 2014||
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
An absorbing, intelligent and uncompromising novel which beguiles and unnerves. The first memorable novel of 2014 is already here --Independent
Told in the form of a memoir in the voice of the extremely unlikeable Perina, it is impossible to resist being drawn into the mind of this brilliant but depraved man. And to feel a little disturbed at having enjoyed such a strange but brilliantly told story. The book is packed with a symphony of complex themes made accessible by the sheer poetry of the author's prose --Daily Mail
Power and its abuses are at the heart of this beautifully written debut... Striking and highly satisfying. Yanagihara's ambitious debut is one to be lauded. --Guardian
Feels like a National Geographic story by way of Conrad's Heart of Darkness... the world Yanagihara conjures up, full of dark pockets of mystery, is magical. --The Times
Suspenseful... Thanks to Yanagihara's rich, masterly prose, it's hard to turn away... Yanagihara is a writer to marvel at --New York Times
A standout novel, a debut as thrilling as it is disturbing... So exciting... Haunting --Wall Street Journal
Yanagihara's enthralling debut... is at once learned, morally serious and deeply entertaining... In Perina, Yanagihara has created a perverse and spellbinding narrator --San Francisco Chronicle
“Haunting ... A standout novel ... thrilling.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“Exhaustingly inventive and almost defiant in its refusal to offer redemption or solace. ... As for Yanagihara, she is a writer to marvel at.” (The New York Times Book Review)
“Captivating―and thoroughly unsettling.” (Vogue) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
In the book we follow the life of acclaimed scientist Norton Perina from his humble beginnings living on a farm as a young boy, through to a stunning discovery he makes wholly by chance, to his ultimate downfall for sexually abusing one of the children he eventually adopts in droves. Some time in his mid-twenties, disillusioned and disliked by most of his laboratory colleagues, Perina is offered the chance to spend a number of months on the isolated islets of U'ivu and Ivu'ivu searching for a lost tribe of hunter gatherers. Soon he and his companions meet up with the intended lost peoples but their existence is soon eclipsed by their apparent longevity. Perina links the tribe's long-livedness to the consumption of a previously unknown turtle species, the opa'ivu'eke. He smuggles some of the turtle flesh back to the US and earns his fame (winning a Nobel prize) whilst at the same time dooming the island's unique culture. As time passes and the population of the prized turtle is eradicated by ravenous pharmaceutical companies and the island's existence is irrevocably altered for the worse, Norton resorts to adopting the native children as a way of penance for his actions. His treatment of the wards in his care is the eventual reason he finds himself in prison and writing the memoirs that make up the book.
I will state now that people who are easily offended should probably steer clear of this book. It deals with some very emotive subjects most notably the sexual abuse of children. The novel is based loosely around the actual events of real-life scientist Carleton Gajdusek which makes it all the more shocking and I have read of people who have given up on it early on in complete disgust. However, if you can look beyond some of the horrible subject matter you will find a very engaging and thought-provoking tale.
The book is told through the words of Perina himself, edited by his close friend Ronald Kubodera. Both men are, at their cores, reprehensible people and you will likely end up finding your dislike for them growing as the novel progresses. Although Perina (through Yanagihara, obviously) is an accomplished writer you will find his take on events often frustrating and shocking. His voice is condescending, arrogant and self-important. He is unfeeling and takes great pleasure in executing the mice in his laboratory in inventive and cruel ways, his compassion non-existent. Despite flashes of regret for what his actions did to the indigenous people of Ivu'ivu he is mostly unrepentant. He might be a brilliant scientist (in his own mind) but he is a strange and deeply unpleasant man.
He describes the U'ivuan people as backwards and mocks them on many separate occasions yet lauds their promiscuity towards children as acceptable in an effort to give credence to his questionable desires. Perina mentions having to teach Victor, the child who eventually brings him to his knees, how to be human and is it any wonder that he is the most damaged and troublesome of all the wretches he chooses to adopt? For how can a man who can barely be described as human himself teach anyone else to be normal? A man who garners more pleasure in identifying the ailments of his sickly adoptees than actually being a father to them is never going to give worthwhile life advice.
While I had an extremely strong dislike of Perina based on his actions and personality I found myself absolutely detesting Kubodera - this is surprising as he only really asserts himself on the novel in the prologue and epilogue and in the (often over-long) fictional footnotes. Kubodera takes every opportunity to fawn over the odious Perina, doting on him like an infatuated lover. What makes Kubodera more insufferable than Perina is the fact that he is aware of Perina's shocking predilections and yet dismisses them under the guise of the man having superior intellect and once making an almost earth-shattering discovery. He is made all the more unpleasant for knowing about what Perina did (as is made clear in a shocking excerpt near the end of the book) and yet still complying with and defending the man as if he had a clear conscience. His footnotes, as well as being sickeningly biased, also serve only to break up the flow of the story - some of them cover entire pages! I'm a firm believer that footnotes should be kept out of novels entirely and used solely for scientific or historical journals or documents and their use in this book did nothing to make me change my opinion on this front.
Despite the negatives of the tellers of this tale there is still a lot to enjoy within the novel. I found myself devouring its improbable science in much the same way I did Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne - although both focus on scenarios that are very much impossible, the worlds they create are fascinating. In The People in the Trees Yanagihara paints a vivid mythology of a strange and unknown people much in the same way as Verne produced his unlikely world within a world. She has given the Ivu'ivuans their own language, social structures and legends - perhaps some of these are even true; is part of Perina's affliction down to the turtle's supposed curse? She has also given them their own unusual yet believable ways of life and rituals - some of which, again, will disturb certain readers. The jungle covered island of Ivu'ivu and its fauna and animal inhabitants are all given life by her vivid and creative prose.
Yanagihara's novel is essentially a character study of a very troubled and unpleasant individual. However, she also manages to highlight man's ignorance and inherent nastiness through a number of different avenues, be it the wilful pollution and destruction of an island ecosystem for financial or scientific gain, to the carelessness and selfishness displayed by people to their peers. The ugly side of mankind is not only shown through Perina and Kubodera but also by the scientists who destroy the island and even through the actions of the adopted children Perina brings back to the United States.
For the most part as I read through this book it was going to be a five star review. Towards the end, however, when we had left the jungles of Ivu'ivu for the last time and turned instead to Perina's incessant adoptions, the pace slackened somewhat and my interest waned slightly. The story is essentially split into three distinct sections: Perina's early life; his time on the island and his discovery and the time spent raising his adopted kids. The intrigue of the story drooped once we arrive at the adopted children section and it is easily the weakest of the three parts. Although there are moments that will shock you and have you marvel at the human condition within this section they are, unfortunately, scant. Also, as we near the end of the story, we can find whole years or important parts of Perina's life surmised in a matter of sentences which I found disappointing.
Despite these flaws towards the conclusion of the book I would still recommend it to most readers. It is quite a unique tale in many ways, told by a despicable voice yet still eminently readable. Although not for the faint of heart owing to some of its content, Yanagihara has crafted a rich and believable culture in the fictional Micronesian islets of U'ivu and Ivu'ivu. Her writing style and prose belie the fact that this is her début novel. If her follow up efforts are only half as good as The People in the Trees they will still be well worth reading.
me. It reminded me a little of the film "Avatar".
I’d first like to applaud the book for its sophisticated construction and the elaborate framing that recasts the Unreliable Narrator into something more potent and concentrated: the Unreliable Narrator and his Editor friend. For the reader, the resultant memoir comes doubly parsed and needs an intellectual Enigma machine to read into the commissions, omissions (confessed and unconfessed), sequence of presentation of facts, footnotes to champion or contradict, tone of various justifications and the length of each of these elements. This is, at once exhausting but somewhat rewarding for the reader because it brings to fore the fallacy and tragedy that remains at the core of every autobiography (and biography), not least the ones written with intention to invoke empathy: they remain a mere shadow of the real person who lived, behaved, acted honourably and committed misdemeanours. While the outsiders might confer, hypothesise and conflate from observed external behaviour, the insider is equally handicapped with blind-spots in his/her insight that renders every recounting of life a mere penumbra (and this when we haven’t even begun to account for the mind’s propensity to biases, predilection to creating stories and narratives, linearity etc).
The The People in The Trees has an Insider and an Outsider convinced about the very same presentation of a life lived and felt, and together they are seen to formulate this elaborate exercise in misdirection: a literary camera obscura. They are allowed to fill the bulk of the memoir with the anthropological adventure which for all its glow and glitter of discovering immortality fails to somehow rehabilitate Perina’s legacy as you find yourself slapped with the climactic rushed, short, exasperated, evasive, desperately scrambled chapters with the details of pederasty shuffled right at the end.
This is, by author’s design, a spectacular simulacrum of the life imagined by Perina and his editor-friend. The trouble is, while I admired Yanagihara’s elaborate framing of these smokes and mirrors, and the lengths to which she goes to make the anthropological-medical adventure feel credible (I can probably go at some length at how beautifully she pursues both the sights, the sounds, the smells and the tedium of observing the tribe on the Micronesian isle and how measured, articulate, perceptive and suitably “aged” the retrospective memoir sounds) it cripples the forward momentum by a fair amount (inspite of the immersion she offers the reader), and it does not allow the reader, who is being guided with blindfold-on all the way through by the mellifluous narration of the know-it-all scientist and his steadfast friend, to really feel the moral laxity or relativity that Nabokov very uncomfortably made one wallow in Lolita or Coetzee or Hollinghurst have in some of their works. I say this not because of any voyeuristic curiosity to experience vicariously that mind space but having all the other major plot-peaks are revealed in the premise and the introduction, the elaborate journey whatever the ruse and intent, feels plodding if the point is a character’s moral rot at the core.
What is left for me to ponder over are the tales we tell to ourselves and people we are close to for sanity and the uneasy binary nature that infects everything and renders it bleak: the Micronesian heaven is admixed with tincture of hellish elements, Perina’s path to professional adoration and intense focus comes attached with profane a isolation; the uber-remarkable discovery of the elixir of immortality is mated to wholesale devouring of innocence, nature and all things pure by the ravenous four fanged beast of academia, media, military and government.
But all these themes, while inviting intellectual discourses and distant, familiar pathos of our “fallen” civilisation, packaged as they do in a perspective-stunted monologue ultimately failed to “move” me completely. I wished for a more visceral, emotional response to this book which had all the elements to wrench one but somehow the scenes for this to occur remained off the pages. It could have done with some explicit antagonistic energy. As such, it felt much longer than it was making one bemoan the rococo staging by the author as a regrettable embellishment: yes the very same one that I was privately defending to myself as baroque in the opening pages.
The book is inspired by the life-trajectory of Nobel Laureate Carlton Gajdusek, a personage whose achievements and warped yet eerily normalised opinion on matters of sexual development I was aghast to learn about (for which I am grateful to the book) and my research into his testimonials, online videos and other material about him troubled and challenged me in ways I wished The People in the Trees had.
All things considered though, I still preferred the somewhat-unexplored emotional terrain of this book to the amped-up, relentless emotional maximalism Yanagihara resorted to in her later A Little Life. I continue to wait for the day where I’ll be getting to read a more elegantly composed piece where her prose is able to offer the balance that her deeply fractured characters ache for.
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Most recent customer reviews
Maybe she got into the mind of the main protagonist too well. Tedious.Read more