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Publisher's Summary

In 1950, a young doctor, Norton Perina, signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote 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 proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame, 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 consequences.

©2013 Hana Yanagihara (P)2013 Dreamscape Media, LLC

Critic Reviews

"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." ( Publishers Weekly)
"Yanagihara presents a cautionary tale about what can happen when Western arrogance meets primeval culture." ( Kirkus Reviews)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

A dazzling, fundamentally flawed excursion into the grotesque

Any additional comments?

This fascinating, well written novel is fundamentally an argument against white colonialism, and the racism and exploitation that go with it. It is also an experiment in unreliable, unsympathetic narration, an attempt to render a character exclusively in dark hues, and this makes the book both intriguing and, alas, predictable. In life, the evil are never pure. Even the worst of them have a few good traits—that’s what makes them so dangerous. Not so, with Norton Perina. He is a composite of repulsive behaviors, a sociopath without a sociopath's charm, a selfish, conniving, narcissistic, misogynistic, unrepentant pedophile devoid of even a shred of humor or a wisp of compassion, much less any other recognizable human traits. Readers are invited not to understand him, but to loathe him. The consistency of Perina's nastiness makes him utterly predictable. While the plot delivers quite a few surprises, the character never does. You can be sure that in every situation, Perina will behave despicably. The book is a meticulous assemblage of slime and smarm: lengthy renderings of "smears" and feces and blotchy complexions; masturbation and menstruation and grotesque corpulence and putrid odors; people gorging on worms, trusting turtles and adorable miniature monkeys; rites-of-passage involving the ritual gang-rape of young boys (and those are the good guys!), all laced together via the protagonist's snarky remarks. Added to the mix is the victimization of humans, creatures, the environment--an entire world!--and, of course, the annihilation of innocence itself. The book can be enjoyed for its irony, complex plot, and haunting descriptions, and perhaps as a purist’s approach to the unsympathetic character. But prepare yourself for a long immersion in a truly hateful worldview, one that in the end I attribute not to Yanagahara’s hand puppet, Perina, but to the deliberate engineering of the author herself.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jane
  • North Wales, PA, United States
  • 03-04-14

Engrossing and disturbing

What did you like best about this story?

Liking seems a weak word. The story vibrated, it gnawed, it struck chords of recognition and also of dismay. There was not a single part that did not engage me.

What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

The two main narrators were exceptional. That the narrator who read Norton's part had a style not dissimilar to that of David Sedaris was appealing.

Any additional comments?

That there are disturbing parts in this book did not diminish my enthusiasm for it. To me, these parts were necessary to my understanding of both the main character and also a larger social commentary. To be be shocked would show our blindness to the sometimes misguided mindset of our own culture.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • linda
  • United States
  • 08-30-13

Warped Perspective of an Anti-Heroic Scientist

It begins with a quote from the Tempest’s Prospero: “A devil, a born devil, on who’s nature nurture can never stick, on whom my pains humanly taken all, all lost, quite lost.” From there to the very last paragraph, Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees is a deeply unsettling, beautifully crafted narrative on the capricious nature of morality in science.

The novel opens with a news article detailing the trial of Nobel laureate, Dr. A. Norton Perina. Accused of sexual harassment and assault by one of his many adopted children, he languishes in jail, a convicted child molester in his early 70s after a celebrated career as an immunologist.

Perina’s protégé, Robert Kubodera, challenges the validity of this report claiming that the conviction was nothing short of familial betrayal. Kubodera has compiled (and edited) letters his mentor wrote during his imprisonment, and plans to publish a memoir which, he hopes, will exonerate the brilliant scientist in the eyes of the public.

What follows is the life story of Norton Perina – a man fascinating and repellant in equal measure. From a claustrophobic first person perspective, he coolly recounts his early life, education at Harvard, and eventual travel to a Micronesian island where he discovered the Opa’ivu’eke, a rare turtle capable of granting a flawed pseudo-immortality. The fallout of Perina’s discovery - the destruction of the indigenous way of life by an insatiable, myopic Western culture - is as predictable as it is tragic.

Yanagihara’s portrayal of monstrous genius should, by all logic, be off-putting but her prose and the East/West dichotomy evocative of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Orwell’s essays on India carry the reader into the thick Micronesian jungle and out again.

Perina makes a surprisingly compelling character, and the narrator – slightly effete, slightly disdainful – perfectly balances the amoral protagonist with the meticulous descriptions of a remote tribe. Kubodera regularly interrupts the novel (occasionally in mid-sentence) with footnotes, adding a unique, albeit biased, dimension to the storyline.

The People in the Trees is a magnificent debut from Yanagihara that I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for a poignant, unnerving, elegantly written work of literature.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Know thyself takes a backseat to science

Any additional comments?

This was an interesting story but more so a profile of a scientist who seems to have lost track of his moral compass. Exploration and discovery trump other considerations when intruding on a newly discovered culture. When the possibility of some ostracized members of this culture having attained a physical but not mental immortality or at least a long life arises Norton, the scientist narrator, pulls out all the stops in an attempt to figure out how they’ve attained such a state. Once word gets out and the pharmaceutical companies descend on the island paradise it is reduced to combed over rubble. Norton wins the Nobel while adopting a great many of the island's waifs. How he fares as a father and why he is imprisoned for going astray conclude the book. While clearly able to apply analysis in the scientific world, Norton lacks such perspicacity when examining his own actions.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

amazing

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

this is book is absolutely fantastic. if you are faint of heart you may consider giving it a miss, otherwise, don't miss it. it should win all the prizes given to books everywhere. the readers are perfect, although the reader that does perina has a couple of glaring mispronunciations. no worries, though, really, he's perfect.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

A book that challenges your preconceptions

"The People in the Trees" is an audiobook that takes a while before all the strands begin to weave themselves into place, so stick with it at the beginning. But as the story comes together, the listener will eventually find that their preconceptions were being cleverly manipulated by the author, right up until the final moments of the book.

The story begins with news stories detailing the arrest and imprisonment of Norton, a Nobel Prize winning scientist who has discovered a turtle on a Pacific Island that has given a tribe of primitive natives extremely long lives - albeit with a nasty side-effect. He is arrested for sexually abusing the many young children he has "adopted" from the island and the majority of the book is told in the form of a journal Norton has written whilst in prison, in which he tells of his childhood, his journey to the island that would make him famous and of the events that led up to his arrest and imprisonment.

As you listen, you'll find that you don't like Norton very much - some of his attitudes and behaviours seem to suggest he is a borderline sociopath and after one particular scene in which he witnesses a tribal initiation ceremony that very much resembles the crime he is later arrested for, you become convinced the pieces are in place to equip him for such a crime.

To reveal any more of the plot would be to spoil the story and the twist(s) that end the book in a very satisfying manner. All I will say is that as Norton describes in detail the aftermath of his discoveries on the island and the subsequent events that lead to his downfall and his arrest you begin to see that perhaps that there is another side to Norton and also to this story - that Norton perhaps has a sentimental side and is not without a conscience - and that perhaps he in fact an innocent victim of a cold and calculating attack on his character by a disgruntled adopted son.

Is Norton innocent or guilty? You'll find the by the end of the book you'll have changed your mind at least once, and maybe twice......

The narration can occasionally be a touch frustrating, mostly when "footnotes" are inserted into Norton's journal - often interrupting the middle of a sentence. There are also some quite noticeable "stopping" and "starting" points, where the narrator has begun reading in what is obviously a new session - his voice at certain oddly placed points has a completely different tone to the preceding sentence - this is not unusual in an audiobook except normally these "breaks" happen at the junction of two chapters, whereas it seems here that the author has just stopped reading once sentence, taken a break, and then come back and started reading the next sentence a few hours later.

For those who have read Hanya Yanagihara's "A Little Life" there is at least one common theme - child abuse - but this time told from a more distant and different perspective. While "A Little Life" is the better book, "The People in the Trees" is still well worth the read / listen - and I thought the end worked really well.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

too disgusting for words

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

If you are a real sick person, think pedophilia is interesting, are a cold-hearted scientist, or a literary snob, this book might appeal to you.

What could Hanya Yanagihara have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

There are many other hooks that could have been used. Overall, it's a disgusting version of Aldus Huxley's _The Island_ but with science as the evil instead of oil companies.

Which character – as performed by the narrators – was your favorite?

The friend who thought the scientist was innocent.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The People in the Trees?

Change the scientist's crime from pedophilia to murder, torture... just about anything else would have been less disgusting.

Any additional comments?

There are some descriptions of the island and the people that are absolutely beautiful. However, you can get that beauty in Aldus Huxley's _Island_ without subjecting yourself to the unpleasantness that is this book.

12 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

uniquely done

this is the second book ive enjoyed by this author. they both seem to start out slow but quickly become riveting wth unanticipated plot twists.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A fascinating read

Ms. Yanagihara possesses a wild, unrestrained imagination. Nothing is taboo for her, and I'm glad.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Ann
  • Dallas, TX, United States
  • 12-12-15

Why won't this book end?

Would you try another book from Hanya Yanagihara and/or the narrators?

Probably not by Yanagihara

Would you ever listen to anything by Hanya Yanagihara again?

Not unless I'm in a coma

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

Yikes the story was a beating - the premise was interesting and then the story ruined it! Seriously, keeping people who won't die in a room in a research center forever - please!

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment that it could have been pretty good - craziness of all the child abuse without punishment until the end. Why portray the main character as a "part good guy" at all - he was a narcissistic train wreck start to finish.

Any additional comments?

Spend your time listening to something else! You can't get those hours back and it really doesn't get any better.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful