Every so often, you come across a book so spectacular that from the moment your eyes fall upon its first sentence the rest of the world ceases to exist. E-mails go unanswered, family members and household chores are neglected—everything is put on hold until you have seen your affair with this book through. Novels like these are reminders not only of why we read, but also of just how vital and downright magical storytelling can be. Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees is such a novel. Books like Yanagihara’s are to be treasured, for they are all too uncommon—about as rare as the turtles that hold the secrets of immortality in her dazzling debut.
Written in the form of a memoir, The People in the Trees is the story of Norton Perina, a young medical researcher who joins a 1950 anthropological expedition to the remote Oceanic nation of Ivu’ivu in search of a lost people who are rumored to have discovered the secret of eternal youth. Perina’s mesmerizing tale recounts his journey deep into the jungle, a living Eden, where he makes a discovery so revolutionary, it stands to change the very face of human existence: By consuming the flesh of a particular turtle, it is possible to arrest the body’s natural decay, resulting in lifespans that stretch across centuries. However, Perina’s discovery is not without its own monstrous consequences—not just for himself, but for the island and its people, who may have been better off never having been found.
Part medical mystery, part anthropological adventure thriller, part meditation on the devastation that often results when worlds collide, The People in the Trees is an exhilarating tour de force that is practically perfect in every way. Yanagihara’s past experience as a travel writer serves her well: Her storytelling is so convincing that readers will find themselves debating which elements are based in fact rather than the author’s vivid imagination. The People in the Trees is flawlessly paced and deeply nuanced—a gorgeous, meaty novel that is spellbinding, scandalous and supremely satisfying.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Hanya Yanagihara for The People in the Trees.