The People in the Trees–Book Review

I am an avid reader and I am always updating my “to read” list with recommendations from various sources. I mostly read fiction and love a good historical thriller from time to time, especially art historical thrillers (for example, The Swan Thieves). From FB or blog suggestions by authors I follow, to the website www.bookpage.com, to a 6 month old copy of People magazine in the doctor’s office waiting room, when something catches my interest, I make a note on my phone, scrap of paper, etc.

I always opt to add books to my online library queue, so I don’t necessarily remember the original source of a recommendation, or even why I  wanted to read it in the first place…it could be months or even over a year before I finally get around to checking the books out from the library, especially if it is a new publication (for example, Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch. Have you seen how big it is? There’s no telling how long it will take the 12 people in front of me to read it!). The downside to my library queue is that once a book is returned, the record is erased and it’s up to me to remember the name and/or author if I want to recommend it. So I have decided to add an occasional review to this blog as both a way of remembering really great reads and sharing them with a bigger audience. For ease of finding any books mentioned herein, I am including a link directly to Amazon. I have nothing against e-books, but my preference will always be old school physical books.

As with any work of art, you may love it or hate it, but an emotional response one way or the other is better than indifference! Without further ado, my first recommendation is The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara. This is the fictional tale of a Nobel Prize-winning doctor’s historical narrative to a colleague and the story is so detailed and compelling, I kept wanting to pause reading it to Google the various characters and places that were so richly described as to seem truly real.

The story follows the somewhat unremarkable career of Norton Perina from childhood, to medical school, to lab work, to an unlikely invitation on an anthropological expedition to Micronesia. The book presents a setting antithetical to western culture and mores and explores what happens to such an idyll when exposed to western influences. If you have ever read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude and been enchanted by the “magic realism” of the environment, the remote jungle setting of The People in the Trees will likely appeal to you. But the story is more complex than the effects of westerners on paradise and poses probing questions for the reader’s consideration, such as “If a great man does unspeakable things, is he still a great man?”* The epilogue, the logical conclusion of Perina’s narrative, will leave you re-thinking everything from mankind’s continuous search for immortality, to the ethics of scientific studies, to societal norms of “acceptable” sexuality.

I look forward to hearing what you think of the book (or any others referenced here). Happy reading!

*quote from the book jacket.

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