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The People in the Trees: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Hanya Yanagihara
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.95
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews

From 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—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. (Aug. 13)

From Booklist

Debut novelist Yanagihara tackles some ambitious and deeply vexing scientific and personal conundrums. By way of protagonist Dr. Norton Perina’s memoir, the story unfolds of a “lost tribe” of Micronesian natives who have discovered the secret of immortality. At first anthropologist Paul Tallent and associate Esme Duff invite Perina along on what they describe as an investigation into a myth, but their real hope is to confirm the tribe’s existence. After many pages of overlong, obtuse, parenthetical sentences describing the island’s dense jungle, readers will be relieved when the team finally happens upon the fabled tribe. Despite the language barrier, Tallent convinces the leaders that the team means them no harm; they only want to learn about tribal customs. While the anthropologists take notes, Perina snoops around until he discovers the tribe’s secret to immortality and, in time, exploits and abuses it for his own despicable purposes. Perina is a delightfully black-hearted protagonist trapped inside Yanagihara’s unfortunately inelegant prose. --Donna Chavez

Product Details

  • File Size: 1967 KB
  • Print Length: 385 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (August 13, 2013)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,296 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of The People in the Trees August 13, 2013
I feel duped. I mean, I have a degree in literature, I should be able to identify an unreliable narrator from miles away, right? But the way Yanaghira began The People in the Trees, with those press releases... I mean, it was like I was predestined to take the side of Norton Perina. And you will know what I mean when you begin the book and also deal with the same, overwhelming evidence that is presented.

So The People in the Trees is a multi-layered novel. One layer is beautiful, beautiful scientific detailing of a tribe culture, complete with origin story and mythology. And the best part? It's backed up by some science. There's mystery and intrigue, pain and anguish, heartbreak and strange customs, it's all contained in the first person narrative of Norton Perina, the doctor-turned-anthropologist who is introduced to the "lost" culture along with two other scientists. One of my favorite moments in this book is when Norton describes the "lost" culture (quoted from ARC - may be subject to changes):

"And if one looks at that population, one sees that most of those "lost" tribes are actually lost only to the white man: just because civilized society stumbles upon a group of Amazonian people does not mean that those people are unknown to dozens of other, better-documented, neighboring tribes."

Talk about an ego-check. The post-colonial researcher in me ached to read more about this tribe (and, thankfully I can read and research something similar as this is based on a true story).

The other thing I really liked about this book was that it was a fictional book that read like a memoir, complete with editors footnotes. Normally, footnotes annoy the bejeebus out of me but not this time.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
...I vanished. There were times when I'm sure a bomb could have gone off and it would not have broken the spell. I wasn't in my world; I was away, in that other reality.

Hanya Yanagihara's "People of the Trees" is a brilliant, cerebral, lavish, and psychologically-nuanced tale that transports readers on an mind-boggling adventure to the Forbidden Island of Ivu'ivu--a virtually unknown Micronesian island, 1000 miles east of Tahiti--a mysterious, damp, dark, jungle world where some members of a small lost tribe can live to well over 300 years old.

The book is written as the fictional memoir of Dr. A. Norton Perina. In 1950, as a young graduate of Harvard Medical School, he accepts a job as part of a scientific expedition to explore Uvu'ivu and study its lost tribe. Perina returns to the U. S. with a four of their oldest natives, called "The Dreamers," and a small sample of rare local turtle meat--the mysterious substance that the doctor assumes is the key to this tribe's incredible longevity. He spends years conducting extensive human and animal laboratory research and publishing his findings. Eventually, his research leads to a Noble Prize; it also leads to the demise of the Uvu'ivuan culture, the extinction of the Opa'ivu'eke turtle, and the near total destruction of the entire island habitat.

From the very first pages, we discover that Dr. Perina is an antihero. He's a convicted pedophile, a man imprisoned at age 71 for sexually abusing one of his many adopted Uvu'ivuan children. Naturally, he says he's innocent...but very early on we learn how easy it is to detest this man. He's one of those dangerous men who combine unrestrained scientific curiosity with an almost total lack of empathy.
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Carelton Gajdusek August 18, 2013
The problem with this book is that the fictionalized account of the life of this man is not nearly as interesting as the real story. Gajdusek was a genius who won the Nobel Prize In 1976, adopted 56 indigenous children, and was an admitted convicted pedophile. The story of his research in Micronesia is so much more interesting then the nonsense in this book about turtles and immortality. Why bother to construct an elaborate tedious fiction when so many of the basic facts of his life are accurate? In 2009 the BBC produced a documentary on Gajdusek where he admitted the molestations and rationalized his behavior as Nabokov's character did in Lolita.
As a lowly medical student, I worked in a viral research lab at NIH in 1966 where Gajdusek brought his samples for processing. He was chief of all viral research at NIH at that time. We knew nothing of his personnel life, but were In awe of his genius.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Norton's Folly July 14, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The story begins slowly with Norton Perina's graduation from medical school and his subsequent decision to accompany an anthropologist to Ivu'Ivu', a Micronesian world of jungle inhabited by a clearly defined, believable culture of hunter and gatherers. The exquisite writing paints a picture of a native village unsullied by the developed world until the expedition's arrival and Perina's discovery: some of the villagers have been banished because they have eaten the flesh of the opa'ivu'eke, a sacred turtle, enabling them to live 3 to 4 times longer than normal. Once these villagers begin displaying signs of dementia, they are taken far out into the jungle and left to fend for themselves.
Perina takes some of these "dreamers" back to the states along with some of the flesh of the turtle and substantiates his findings through them and a controlled study of mice. When he publishes his findings, pharmaceutical companies rush to the island and destroy it and the native culture. Norton gets a Nobel and the natives get the shaft. Perina returns several times over the years "ostensibly" to conduct more studies and with each visit brings back diseased, starving, unwanted children. He cures their diseases, provides for their physical needs, and enables them to adapt to American culture, but Perina's ministrations come with a price, a sexual price. The crux of the story revolves around whether his accomplishments outweigh his unspeakable crimes.
The People in the Trees explores many moral and ethical questions and since Norton narrates the story, we discover than he lacks any self-awareness because he deems himself to be a great man. He, like many of those with great power, is able to see his greatness but can't see the heinous evil that taints his soul.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Plenty I liked, plenty I didn't, but definitely a unique experience
I'm all over the place with this book. I read it because the premise of a scientist who discovers a tribe of island natives living long beyond normal due to their consumption of a... Read more
Published 5 days ago by Carrie
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't look for a hero!
This was a book club read, and I have to say I struggled hard to get through it. I love science and exploring other cultures, so that part of the story was very interesting to me. Read more
Published 9 days ago by kaf
2.0 out of 5 stars Waste of time
Glacial pacing. Nothing much happens for at least the first hundred pages. They could have been rendered in ten or twenty. Totally unnecessary background information. Read more
Published 23 days ago by Verita
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It was excellent.
Published 28 days ago by Socrates (the Lab mix)
1.0 out of 5 stars Unpleasant
Convoluted story. Stilted language. Laborious to read. Unwieldy vocabulary. One of the worst books I have read in many, many years.
Published 1 month ago by r146
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad and unsettling
Primitive peoples, anthropology, narcissism, pedophilia -- it's all here. Very well written and organized, this is truly a multi-layered novel. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mary Reinert
2.0 out of 5 stars As Plodding as a Turtle
As plodding as turtles, this book. The conceit is that the great genius of a mind wrote his memoirs and they have herein been published by his pal. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Reader and Writer
3.0 out of 5 stars Oddly intriguing
Oddly entertaining. Too much background and not enough focus on the tree people. Left me feeling that there was more to the mystery that was left unsaid.
Published 1 month ago by Teresa C. Garieri
3.0 out of 5 stars Talented writer...Looking forward to her next book.
Excellent writer....but no real surprises....although it is an excellent trip....Amazing insight....
Published 1 month ago by Maven Gates
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read but does not follow through on the promised conceit
The People In the Trees is a fictionalized account of a great scientist who is guilty of sordid crimes on a pretty grand scale. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jacquelyn
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