Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The People in the Trees” as Want to Read:
The People in the Trees
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The People in the Trees

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  20,434 ratings  ·  2,959 reviews
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 su ...more
Hardcover, 369 pages
Published August 13th 2013 by Doubleday
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The People in the Trees, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Catster It's intentional - the first 2 pages of the book are explaining the entire plot. The purpose of this book is not to surprise you with the adventures o…moreIt's intentional - the first 2 pages of the book are explaining the entire plot. The purpose of this book is not to surprise you with the adventures of the main character, it's more about analyzing it as you see the story from first person perspective. (less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Kate Chloe, I had the same response (well not exactly as I don't know Gadjusek's work although Im aware of kuru), in that I found the novel egotistical. I …moreChloe, I had the same response (well not exactly as I don't know Gadjusek's work although Im aware of kuru), in that I found the novel egotistical. I don't enjoy books that set out to be 'transgressive', that is, writing really cruel, skin-crawling scenes in an effort to shock the reader. The 'allegory' about Western imperialism was so very heavy-handed...she could have given her protagonist even an iota of depth or a redeeming feature, instead he was cold, brutish, self-indulgent and cavalier about the people he studied. I kept waiting for the twist or the deeper character to emerge - no luck! I chose 'The People in the Trees' because a good friend had loved 'A little Life'. Very disappointed. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  20,434 ratings  ·  2,959 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The People in the Trees
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book should begin with a caution: those who are uncomfortable with moral relativism and who prefer to view the world in black-and-white should not take one step further. The People of the Trees is rife with moral ambiguity throughout, which makes it a particularly mesmerizing and mind-challenging debut.

A short Google search reveals that the book was inspired on real Nobel laureate Carleton Gajdusek. The book purports to be the memoir of celebrated scientist Norton Perina, edited by his coll
Justin Tate
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Had I written this review moments after reading the final words, I might have given the book 3 stars or maybe even 2. The ending, while not entirely unexpected, managed to leave me shocked and stupefied. At first I was angered by the whole thing, then I was perplexed, then I started re-reading certain chapters. Only then did I realize just how smartly woven this yarn is spun. In hindsight, it's actually quite miraculous how Yanagihara managed to tie together the varying storylines.

I will warn re
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'life was elsewhere, and it was frightening and vast and mountainous and uncomfortable.'

HYs writing is mesmerising. i dont know how else to describe it. her words are intelligently intricate, while understatedly beautiful. its the same writing that i fell in love with in ‘a little life.’ while not as soul destroying as ALL, this is still an emotionally compelling novel.

the first pages of the book tell you everything you will read - its lays out the entire plot before you. there are no surp
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
With The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara has no doubt secured her place in my list of 'favorite authors.' Not only are her stories blisteringly original and masterfully written, but they point out so many things that make us human with conviction and honesty. When I read her second novel A Little Life, I was appalled and yet incredibly moved by the dark, disturbing tale she wove. And with The People in the Trees, her debut novel--and a powerhouse one at that--I am convinced that Yanagihar ...more
Caz (littlebookowl)
Oct 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, school
TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault

This was definitely an interesting and unsettling book.
I wouldn't say that a lot of what happened necessarily shocked me due to the characterisation of the main character. Since we are inside Norton's head, as a reader you are almost inclined to sympathise with him, but he is so unlikeable and I didn't agree with many of his actions. But his story was just so captivating and intriguing.
May 03, 2017 rated it liked it
There was something so wrong about this book. Reading it was like some sort of slow, pervy foreplay to the final #shockingnotshocking pages. I think I hated this book. I hated it but was simultaneously impressed with it.

Spoiler territory below (You be the judge though because it's similar to Lars Von Trier's end-of-the-world film Melancholia, where the opening scene is ...the end of the world. Similarly, all that is "revealed" in Yanagihara's story is written in her first few pages).

Newspaper c
Pamela Barrett
Jul 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
When I’m going to review a book, I don’t read other reviews, so that they don’t color my opinion. I do read what the publisher or editor sends out, and what the book cover synopsis states about the author and story. But in this case I wish I had read something more, so that I could have been cautioned about what this story was really about. I thought I was getting an adventure story about a young doctor and an anthropologist, who discover a lost tribe in the jungles of an island; based on a true ...more
Mar 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've read this year - complex and unsettling but so brilliantly crafted. I was both disappointed and intrigued to find out this was a fictional version of an actual Nobel Prize-winning scientist's life; on one hand, I thought it was such an interesting narrative and am a tiny bit less impressed to know that Yanagihara didn't fully come up with the ideas herself, but on the other, it's shocking and fascinating to know that this was actually someone's life.

I've been intereste
Emily B
Sep 07, 2019 rated it liked it
I loved the anthropology and science elements of this novel. I ask found it pretty gripping at times, specially the parts set on the island.

I’m not sure the parts talking of Norton’s childhood and parents were completely necessary to the story. Although I did find them interesting.

I read this despite not being sure about the authors other novel ‘a little life’ but thought this book sounded a lot different. It was different and less intense that a little life but there are also similar themes s
Lee Klein
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It had to've taken more than 18 days to read this. Read it after A Little Life -- author said somewhere that her second novel was a response to this one, the story of the abused, not the abuser. Her novels are like 10+-mile runs: they're worth it and filled with wonderful moments but also there are always times when I want them to end. I admire this for the steady descriptive tone, the lush island atmosphere, the invented vocab perfectly deployed, the dual unreliable narrators, the boldness of s ...more
Larry H
Oct 13, 2020 rated it liked it
What did I just read?

Some of you might know that Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life is one of my favorite books of all time; in fact, it was my #1 book of the last decade. So a friend and I decided to read The People in the Trees , her debut novel, and see whether that captivated and compelled as much as A Little Life did.

In short, The People in the Trees was at times beautiful, bewildering, compelling, and disturbing. Presented as the memoir of fictional scientist and Nobel Prize w
Julianne (Outlandish Lit)
Jun 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
6 Reasons Why The People in the Trees is Perfect

1. // It's a book within a book.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm delighted whenever this happens. If you're a little hesitant, fear not. This is no gimmick. There is no better way this strange story could be told. The book is framed as Norton Perina's memoir that he's writing from jail. The introduction, editing, and footnotes are done by his friend, Ronald. At one point, Norton Perina says about his life:

"...I have found that contemplating the events

In the final pages, this beautifully written story takes a dark turn that's left me questioning its reason for being. In the beginning, I was confident I'd begun an anthropological adventure with magical realism elements. As I read on, I was disturbed by the flashes of cruelty coming from the main character, scientist Norton Perina. This is a man who takes delight in killing his lab mice and who regards the tribal people he studies as less than human. I was troubled by these
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, 2018-read
Dr. Abraham Norton Perina, a brilliant scientist, won a Nobel Prize in 1974 for discovering the Selene syndrome, a condition that retards aging - almost 25 years later, the Micronesian island where he found the key to what seemed to be eternal life has been utterly exploited by Western pharmaceutical companies, the indigenous civilization has been destroyed, and Norton himself was sentenced to prison for sexually abusing his adopted children.

Yanagihara gives us the complete outline of her story
Justin Evans
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Please explain to me why so few of my friends have read this book. It's a triumph of style--not 'voice,' not 'authentic expression,' but style. PT is, for the most part, the 'memoirs' of a medical anthropologist, Norton Perina. He is one of the great characters of this young century, and Yanagihara's ability to write in his slightly ludicrous way is an absolutely astonishing feat of literary irony.

The book's plot is glorious, as well; a little slow at the beginning, which I think is true for mo
Jennifer (aka EM)
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: jo
Extraordinary. (view spoiler) This novel is remarkable in any number of ways - but in particular in the way it plays with the reader (at least, this reader) who can intellectually embrace the notion of moral relativism; yet for whom moral absolutism on some issues prevails.

The People in the Trees is
Aug 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to hand it to Yanagihara here for writerly discipline. Perhaps writing in the voice of an unsympathetic elderly man comes naturally to her, but crafting this into something convincing or at least artfully contrived is an impressive feat, and resisting the temptation to intervene in author voice wouldn't have been possible for me!

I suppose with whatever I'm reading I ask myself: Is this literature critical? Yanagihara's book traverses difficult territory, the dangerous grounds of child ab
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Britta Böhler
Sep 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: femlit, favs
A beautiful, but also deeply disturbing novel.

Based on the true story of Nobel-laureate Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, a medical researcher and convicted child molester, the novel follows the life of Dr. Perina and his research into a (fictional) tribe living on an isolated Micronesian island.

What strikes you first is that the 'world-building' of the invented island and the various tribes is stunning, detailed and lively. From rites to language, from landscape to wildlife and fauna, you never have th
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
I should have written a review closer in time to having read this, but it's been nuts!

I had a particular interest in the book, based on a slight personal connection. I had a close college friend who was related to Dr. D. Carleton Gadjusek, the Nobel-prize winning scientist who adopted dozens of children from Micronesia, and was eventually convicted of child molestation and died in disgraced exile. That story provides the precise template for all of this book except the science. Anyway, I have a
Sep 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
I have been thinking about this book for a few days. If I was part of a book club, I would insist we read this and discuss it. Am thinking about starting a book club for that express purpose.
One of the many astonishing things about this book is that it is a first novel, written by a young woman who is obviously well versed in science and anthropology. Not that that in itself is astonishing, I just think it's such a big story, so well written and intriguing, that how can it be a first novel?
But t
Thoughts immediately after finishing:
I have just finished the last page and those who have already read this will understand exactly what I am mean when I say I feel shaken. I don't want to write too much and don't know yet if I will be able to write a spoiler-free review. I need some time to think. But it is so important you experience this book as Yanagihara intended.

After a few days recovery:
I am never going to be able to get this book out of my head. After having a bit more time to think, I
Nov 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
After reading this author’s second book, “A Little Life”, I knew she was an author who wouldn’t disappoint. So of course I had to read her debut book, “The People in the Trees”. Once again I was completely blown away.

This is the story of Norton Perina, a young scientist who is asked by an anthropologist, Paul Tallent, to travel to the island of Ivu'ivu to search for a lost tribe of natives. Not only is the lost tribe discovered but Perina also discovers that some of this tribe has lived for cent
Read By RodKelly
This is truly a perfect novel. Yanagihara manages to critique the evils of colonialism, science, and its fascinating but ultimately sickening repercussions. She turns a sharp eye toward Western philosophies and behaviors, which, throughout history, have caused the demise of many a nation and culture. Then, there is the honest look at sexual abuse and pedophilia, around which topic the book frames itself. The author is unflinchingly pedantic and academic in her exploration of the darkest subjects ...more
Carolyn O
Hanya Yanigahara’s The People in the Trees is the most disturbing novel I’ve read in years, and simultaneously one of the most beautiful.

The People in the Trees

Seeing the look on my face when I was most of the way through the novel, my husband asked, “Are you reading horror?”

“No,” I said, “but it’s pretty frightening.”

“Well, the title is creepy.”

And so it went.

The epigraph to The People in the Trees comes from The Tempest (4.1), when Prospero inveighs against what he sees as Caliban’s fundamenta
There was the forest we knew, but beyond it perhaps there was a whole other forest, an entirely different ecosystem with its own distinct set of birds and mushrooms and fruits and animals. Perhaps there was another set of villages as well, protected by the trees for centuries, whose people lived to be a thousand and never lost their minds, or who died when they were teenagers, or who never had sex with children, or who only did.

Главное, что я вынесла из этой книги -- ALL у нее получилась не случ
Aug 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book bothered me. It's story held potential but ultimately I felt its plot and it's characters (or really character as this is the story of one man) were left hanging on the tree never to ripen. More so though Yanagihara has chosen to tell the story through a wholly unlikeable, unpitiable and unsympathetic narrator. I get it; but also I hate this guy. I hated him for some 350 pages. I hated him far more after the plot reveal of the postscript that had loomed over the whole of the story. I t ...more
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
"For it, after all, is a story with disease at its heart."

A lot of people start their reviews of this book by talking about the author’s second novel, which nearly everyone (including me) read first. I am slightly unnerved by the number of people who say how much they enjoyed A Little Life. It was compelling and powerful, but it was not, for my money, enjoyable. That doesn’t mean it was in any way bad - it is a remarkable book and well worth reading as long as you are mentally strong enough and
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very different book to Hanya Yanigihara's second novel "A Little Life" but it is almost as good and shows me just how much of a great writer she really is.

First I'll say what is similar in both novels: they're both extremely well-written in style and they both deal with sexual misconduct with children, albeit in a very different way.

In the 1990s Dr. Ronald Kubodera, a colleague of Nobel Laureate Dr. Abraham Norton Perina (based on the real scientist Daniel Carleton Gajdusek who was ac
Dec 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
I'm having a very hard time thinking of how to review this book because my feelings about it are very tied up in how it ends and I don't want to spoil something the author lays out brilliantly.

I find myself in the position of acknowledging that this is a very well-written, interesting, thought-provoking, morally complicated debut, which I will not easily recommend to anyone. Why not? There are scenes of brutal violence against both animals and children, which are frankly hard to take. I came awa
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Darkness Breaks (Darkness Falls, #2)
  • La città dei vivi
  • On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
  • Real Life
  • Shuggie Bain
  • Sembrava bellezza
  • The Secret History
  • The Little Friend
  • Fantastic Tales
  • Toxic Haven
  • Blood in the Fruit
  • Klara and the Sun
  • Girl, Woman, Other
  • Redenzione
  • What Happens at Night
  • Il demone a Beslan
  • Che cosa c'è da ridere
See similar books…

Articles featuring this book

When you work at Goodreads, it's pretty tough to keep that Want to Read shelf under control. (And let's be honest, most of us don't even...
163 likes · 44 comments
“All ethics and morals are culturally relative. And Esme's reaction taught me that while cultural relativism is an easy concept to process intellectually, it is not, for many, an easy one to remember.” 17 likes
“Oh god, I thought, can nothing in this jungle behave as it ought? Must fruits move and trees breathe and freshwater rivers taste of the ocean? Why must nothing obey the laws of nature? Why must everything point so heavily toward the existence of enchantment?” 17 likes
More quotes…