Saturday, March 1, 2014

The People in the Trees

The People in the Trees
Hanya Yanagihara

Published 2013

First Sentence
"I was born in 1924 near Lindon, Indiana, the sort of small, unremarkable rural town that some twenty years before my birth had begun to duplicate itself, quietly but insistently, across the Midwest."
Publisher's Description:
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.

Dear Reader,

Every now and then you read a book and after you've finished you sit there wondering if you liked it or not. This was one of those books. The People in the Trees is very well written, has all the makings of a good novel including adventure, science, culture, even a little bit of mystery. The book is essentially about this scientist who is invited to join an anthropologist to an island rumored to contain a lost tribe. Before we even get to this plot line, we're introduced to the scientist's associate, who is the narrator of the book. Even before that, we're introduced to the scientist through a scandal involving him and some children, yes... he was accused of inappropriate relationships with some of his children (who've been adopted by him). This is all within the first few chapters, after that the narrator (his associate) wants to clear his name and tell the story of a great scientist who did wonderful things and adopted children from this mysterious island (children who would have become destitute).

What I loved about this book was the vivid way the Hana Yanagihara describes this tribe, the people, the language, the customs, the novelty of it. Clearly, this is a book that involves so many controversial topics. If we come upon a hidden society/tribe, should it be kept a secret?  When first introduced to the tribe, you notice that the people have it together, more than we do even. They hunt, gather, trade, live, love... all the things that satiate our needs in life. Can technology bring them easier ways of doing things, un-complicating tasks that take time and effort? Yes! Should we bring this technology them to "better" their lives? This is a question that gets answered in the book and they results are rather interesting. Technology can be a dangerous thing, especially when brought into the wrong hands. It brought this question to my mind; Are morals and ethics culturally relative? I'd be inclined to say they aren't but this is a question that could create week long discussions.

The Author brings life to this tribe with intricate stories, the storytelling in the book is fantastic. We have this long lost tribe that apparently can "live forever", after performing a ceremony where they eat some meat from a local turtle (native only to this part of the island). There is much more to this ceremony and "why" they do this, you'll have to read it yourself to find out because it's fantastic made-up folklore, giving the tribe even more depth and interest. This is where the story starts to turn ugly, the turtle is found and the scientist believes he can use it to create eternal life. This life comes at a cost though, the elderly people of the tribe who've lived over a hundred years, closer to two hundred, start to act strangely. They become different, can't remember things, the body stays healthy and fertile while the mind slowly disintegrates. Perina, the scientist, believes he can harness the ability to skirt death while also removing the problems.

I don't think we're suppose to like Perina, at least I didn't. I understood he had a very scientific brain that didn't include much room for emotion, especially empathy but doesn't a person without empathy also describe a psychopath? This is exactly how I felt about him. I did like the many ideas and questions his personality made me think about though. I started pondering about the brain a little more, different personality types, what truly makes a psychopath. I could go on and on about the ideas this book burned into my brain. I think this might be why I gave it four stars. I didn't particularly like any of the characters, the story was solid but kind of slow paced but the Author brings you into this discussion, almost like he wants to have a fun lengthy debate about ALL sorts of things. I liked that, I really did. I would suggest this book to someone who likes pondering over profound ideas, maybe even someone who flirts with culture and finds anthropology fascinating. I will warn you ahead of time, there's things in the book that aren't for the faint of heart. If you can't stomach certain things involving child molestation, animal cruelty, etc... you might need to pass this up. I don't like reading about these things but can admit that they exist and books reflect life, sometimes we need to be reminded that life has horrible things in it.

Happy Reading,

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