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The People in the Trees

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3.65  ·  Rating details ·  9,217 Ratings  ·  1,572 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, 368 pages
Published August 13th 2013 by Doubleday (first published 2013)
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Catherine 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…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

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Jill
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
...more
Maxwell
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own-it, 2015
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
Catriona (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.
Leanne
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
...more
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
Sharon
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
...more
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
...more
Lee
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
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
...more
Zanna
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
...more
Yvonne
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
...more
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 o
...more
Marjorie
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
...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
...more
Elaine
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
...more
Imi
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
...more
Jean
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a debut novel, based on a true story which I found both fascinating and disturbing. As I began reading I was so intrigued with the writing and the story. It seemed so intelligently written and I went on this anthropological expedition to a remote Micronesian island, I was glued to each page. I could not put the book down. Then there were moments where things just got uncomfortable for me and I wondered if I was going to end up hating this book. This did not happen, and that, to me, prove ...more
Book Riot Community
I was a ridiculously huge fan of Yanagihara’s 2015 second novel, A Little Life, so I decided to read her debut. The two books are vastly different, sharing only a few similar themes. TPITT has shades of both Lolita and Pale Fire, so if you’re a Nabokov junkie, read it now. It also has two unreliable narrators, with one giving footnotes on the other. They are both pretty terrible people so if you’re down for unlikable characters, read it now. But as for the meat of the book, this story of a scien ...more
Alena
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
...more
John
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
Conor
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I joined this site around the time that Yanagihara's A Little Life was just starting to blow up. I would mention that I wanted to read it, people would immediately mention that I should prepare for a month of public crying, and I patiently waited for the queue to tick down at the Brooklyn public library. During this interlude, however, several friends whose opinions about art and literature more closely mirror my own started to dissent a bit. It wasn't that they didn't like the book, it just fel ...more
Katerina
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
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
The People in the Trees was on the Publishers Weekly top ten books of 2013 list, and it's on the Tournament of Books list for 2014.

It's written like an annotated memoir based on letters from jail, about a scientist who does research on immortality on a newly discovered Micronesian tribe. So the style is cool, you would almost think it was real non-fiction but its all fiction and therefore a novel. I even got tricked a few times into looking up books that are mentioned. They don't exist. Nothing
...more
Bekka
Aug 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: historical
Thanks to Edelweiss and Doubleday for early access to this title.

This is a difficult book to critique. Its told primarily by Dr. Norton Perina, a Nobel Prize winner who, in his later years, is convicted of child molestation. Its based on the real Dr. Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the disease kuru among the native New Guineans, and was also convicted of child molestation in his later years. The book is an attempt to examine the mind of a brilliant but deeply fl
...more
Miles
Jun 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As if I couldn't love Hanya enough. She's a genius, and deserves all the high praise she's gotten for her first two novels, especially this one.

Hanya has said it herself; her best skills as a writer are structure and pacing. This novel is highly crafted to keep the reader engaged literally to the last paragraph. The way she explored using a different "medium" (newspaper clippings before and after a heavily-annotated memoir written from a prison room) draws the reader out of fantasy and plops th
...more
Janet Boyer
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
I picked up THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES from the Amazon Vine program because the pitch made it sound like a magical-realism tale about an anthropologist who finds the fountain of youth in the form of a turtle (with alarming side effects).

Instead, what we get is a a novel written in the form of the prisoner's memoir. The anthropologist is self-absorbed, arrogant and unlikable (despite his "assistant" touting his awesomeness in the beginning).

I tried to force myself to read this book--I acknowledge th
...more
KatieMc
A case of cultural relativism run amok. People of the Trees is a memoir based account of a brilliant and Nobel awarded doctor/scientist who discovers an elixir for eternal life (view spoiler) and who is prosecuted and convicted of child molestation. Either one of those two themes is heady enough for it's own book, but Hanya Yanagihara is clever enough to role it all together into a single sordid tale ...more
Mike
Part Borges, part Nabokov, part Conrad—a faux autobiography of a medical investigator who helps to discover a tribe whose elders consume turtle meat and gain a limited and diseased immortality. The narration and editing of the autobiography are exceptionally well done; the fictional tribe at the center of the story is plausible, as is the tribe's exploitation and decline at the hands of a rapacious western science. The character of Norton, the investigator, is, like Nabokov’s HH, memorable in hi ...more
Nathan
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Some people have shelved this as fantasy. That's a real stretch to me. It's more fantasy than western, but I'd just call it literary fiction.

The characters were complex and interesting. There are elements of unreliable narration and (new to me) unreliable footnoting by another character. It all leaves me unsure which parts of the tale are honest and which parts are total fabrication. Within the context of the story, the idea that there was a turtle you could eat to become kind of immortal seems
...more
Elizabeth A
Sep 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, 2015
This book was my book club selection for the month. I started out reading the ebook, but found it difficult to get into the story as I did not like the point of view of the main character, and had a hard time looking out through his eyes. So I switched over to the audiobook, and people, if you are going to read this book, I would highly recommend the audio. The one I listened to had three narrators - Arthur Morey, William Roberts, Erin Yuen, and they are so, so good. I found that unlike reading ...more
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“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?” 12 likes
“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.” 9 likes
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