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To Paradise

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2022)
From the author of the classic A Little Life, a bold, brilliant novel spanning three centuries and three different versions of the American experiment, about lovers, family, loss and the elusive promise of utopia.

In an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems). The fragile young scion of a distinguished family resists betrothal to a worthy suitor, drawn to a charming music teacher of no means. In a 1993 Manhattan besieged by the AIDS epidemic, a young Hawaiian man lives with his much older, wealthier partner, hiding his troubled childhood and the fate of his father. And in 2093, in a world riven by plagues and governed by totalitarian rule, a powerful scientist’s damaged granddaughter tries to navigate life without him—and solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearances.

These three sections are joined in an enthralling and ingenious symphony, as recurring notes and themes deepen and enrich one another: A townhouse in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village; illness, and treatments that come at a terrible cost; wealth and squalor; the weak and the strong; race; the definition of family, and of nationhood; the dangerous righteousness of the powerful, and of revolutionaries; the longing to find a place in an earthly paradise, and the gradual realization that it can’t exist. What unites not just the characters, but these Americas, are their reckonings with the qualities that make us human: Fear. Love. Shame. Need. Loneliness.

To Paradise is a fin de siècle novel of marvellous literary effect, but above all it is a work of emotional genius. The great power of this remarkable novel is driven by Yanagihara’s understanding of the aching desire to protect those we love – partners, lovers, children, friends, family and even our fellow citizens – and the pain that ensues when we cannot.

720 pages, Hardcover

First published January 11, 2022

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Hanya Yanagihara

18 books17.4k followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,107 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,944 reviews292k followers
January 23, 2022
“Does this look like a dystopia to you?”
The answer, implicit in the man’s question, was that a dystopia doesn’t look like anything; indeed, that it can look like anywhere else.

I foresee a lot of very different reviews for this book. Largely because it is really three books in one, with each book being very different in terms of style and genre. Their themes overlap-- colonialism, freedom, illness and disability, love, family, to name but a few --but it's unlikely most readers will enjoy each one equally.

In fact, each review I've read so far has had a different take on the book's strengths. Personally, I enjoyed books one and three a lot, and it was book two that dragged a bit.

I became deeply emotionally invested in the love story at the heart of the first book, as well as the exploration of feeling torn between one's duty to different people. This one is best described as historical fiction / alternate history. The protagonist is David and he lives in a 19th century New York City where being gay is accepted as completely normal. He is an odd, reserved, complex character whose only real companion is his beloved grandfather, who attempts to arrange a marriage for him with a wealthy older man called Charles. Despite David's efforts to like Charles, he instead falls madly in love with the poor, vibrant and enigmatic Edward.

The ending of this first story is left wondrously, infuriatingly ambiguous, which I know will annoy some readers. However, it hit just the right mysterious bittersweet spot for me.

The second book is set in 1993 against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic and follows a different man named David who is married to a different older man named Charles (the same names and similar characters run through the whole of the novel). The first part of this book appealed to me more, when the author examined a relationship between two people from very different backgrounds. David is much poorer than Charles and this affects the relationship dynamic, sometimes causing problems between the two of them.

The second part of the second book is a letter from David's father in which he documents his life in Hawaii and the breakdown of his family. I'm not sure if it was the format, but I felt a bit removed from the events that occurred in this section of the book, which is why it was the slowest part for me to get through.

The last book is the longest and I didn't warm to it straight away, but, by the end, I came to really like it. One of the most interesting parts of To Paradise, for me, was the way we were introduced to characters (especially the first David, and Charlie in the last story) who really struggled socially. I felt for them so much and it hurt my heart when they longed for love, romance, whatever and either didn't know how to get it or feared they were being fooled. They felt intensely vulnerable and this made me care about them.

Book three is a dystopia, set in a future NYC where pandemic after pandemic rages, food and other goods are strictly rationed, and gay rights have once again been eroded. I enjoyed how this part moved back and forth between the present, told by Charlie, and the lead-up to it, unveiled by Charlie's grandfather.

Looking back over the whole book, I really enjoyed reading the majority of it. Yanagihara created a LOT of characters here and made me come to care for a good many of them. To be honest, I think this complex exploration of characters who were flawed, morally grey, trying their best,and socially awkward was what gave me the most satisfaction, not any overarching message that may or may not have been intended.

I'll be honest and say I do not fully understand what the author wanted to convey by having character names and similar situations repeated throughout these stories and I'm not convinced it was totally necessary.

Still, each day I reached eagerly for this 700+ page book, so that's an achievement in itself.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 116 books156k followers
March 2, 2022
I really liked this book because I love Yanagihara's prose style. She takes as much time as she wants to unravel even the smallest details. It's like, yes, girl go ahead! This is really three short novels about people reaching for paradise in very different ways. There is a lot of world building that I found interesting even when it didn't contribute to the story as much as I thought it might. The first two books especially have a fable-like quality to them. As with previous work, there is a lot of epistolary prose moving the story ahead in the 2nd and 3rd books. Rich, sumptuous language. Now, I did find that there were issues around Black people who seemed to be an afterthought in the story, particularly in the first book where slavery existed but was somewhere beyond the periphery of the narrative. The few references in all three books, to Black people were not careful. Now, every book does not have to be everything to everyone but there were a few things about this that just pulled me out of an otherwise immersive story.
Profile Image for ELLIAS (elliasreads).
477 reviews37.7k followers
Want to read
September 9, 2021
am I ready to be destroyed yet again??? pls bitch, after a little life, i am immune to heartache. (leaving this for myself to check back when this book comes out and my heart breaks).
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews45.7k followers
July 7, 2022
do you know how hard it is to finish a book this long without enjoying it for even a second?

i do.

it is roughly as hard as the following things:
- having just one cookie
- pretending to listen to people who are telling you in detail about their dreams
- engaging in something called "exercise"
- writing a review under 478239478923 words.

and yet here we are. i did it.


i'm kind of uninterested, as a rule, in engaging with what authors deem to be The Purpose of their books. i don't believe in separating the art from the artist (it's altogether impossible), but i am a firm disciple of the concept that your average reader's opinion on the meaning of a work is not only as valuable as its creator's, but in fact both more significant and typically more interesting.

that's a long-winded way of saying that all of hanya's bullsh*t-spewing about why she keeps writing about gay men and doesn't believe in therapy and generally sounds like every globally minded mindfulness expert's specific nemesis has nothing to do with her work to me.

so in a sense, i forgive her for it, because it doesn't matter in my reading experience.

what i can't forgive her for is being long-winded, self-indulgent, pointless and meandering, and above all, DULL.

i wanted to believe that the people in the trees, in all its thoroughly-tread exploration of cliché, was the outlier, but it appears that a little life, which, for all its issues and red flags, is a stunning achievement, was a total one off for our dear ms yanagihara.

this is as different from that as an oatmeal creme pie is from a twinkie. both are disturbing crimes against humanity, but one is addictive and impressive and the other is just unholy.

i read this in the midst of a truly insane reading month, one in which i was typically reading half a dozen books at a time and alternating chapters because i physically could not stop reading.

these chapters were mostly alternated between a classic and a tiktok-famous semi-YA fantasy, and the writing matched one and was leagues below the other.

i'll let you guess.

i did not care about a single character in the first section, and in fact hated them so much i prayed on their respective downfalls, a phenomenon that continued into the second story and only relented a bit in the third because i was so relieved at the unexpected treat of a female character that i almost had to be grateful by default.

that didn't last long, either.

it was almost comical how snooze-worthy this was, and in fact i would have had a good laugh if it didn't take me a week and an undue amount of suffering to finish. maybe if i had a moment's relief, but this book had no plot, no memorable characters, no striking writing, nothing new to add to the idea of the pandemic novel, no real backbone to hold up its experimental structure or playfulness with perspective, and ultimately, it felt to me, no meaning.

that's a lot of nothing.

bottom line: if you don't have anything nice to say, you're not supposed to say anything at all...but i already wrote this whole review, so i'll just drop this to one star instead.

currently-reading updates

hanya yanagihara books are good because you get to spend 800 pages' worth of time upsetting yourself


reading books by asian authors for aapi month!

book 1: kim jiyoung, born 1982
book 2: siren queen
book 3: the heart principle
book 4: n.p.
book 5: the hole
book 6: set on you
book 7: disorientation
book 8: parade
book 9: if i had your face
book 10: joan is okay
book 11: strange weather in tokyo
book 12: sarong party girls
book 13: the wind-up bird chronicle
book 14: portrait of a thief
book 15: sophie go's lonely hearts club
book 16: chemistry
book 17: heaven
book 18: the atlas six
book 19: the remains of the day
book 20: is everyone hanging out without me? and other concerns
book 21: why not me?
book 22: when the tiger came down the mountain
book 23: the lies we tell
book 24: to paradise

tbr review

hanya yanagihara being one of my auto-buy authors will surely bring me nothing but suffering. but here we are
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,113 reviews8,046 followers
January 11, 2022
In many ways, the premise of To Paradise, the follow up to Hanya Yanagihara's smash hit novel A Little Life, is simple. Three parts telling stories across three centuries in 'American' history. 'American,' here, is in quotes as it's reminiscent of, but not identical to America as we know it.

In Part One we experience the highs and lows of romance and coming-of-age in the form of twenty-something bachelor David Bingham in 1893 New York. He's set up for an arranged marriage by his grandfather, with whom he lives in Washington Square, to a wealthy widower named Charles Griffith. Instead, however, David finds himself drawn to the penniless but enigmatic music teacher, Edward Bishop. Will he surrender to his fate as a Bingham and marry Charles or give up everything he knows and loves and let his heart lead him to Edward?

Part Two takes us a century into the future. In 1990s New York, we witness David Bingham (not the same as Part One but an alternate universe David) in an affair with Charles, a senior partner at the law firm where David works as a paralegal. David, in this storyline, is a young Hawaiian man whose father is lying ill in a hospital back on the island where he comes from, and their two narratives swap back and forth as we learn the history of David's life.

Finally, at about the 50% mark of the novel, we come to Part Three: a semi-dystopian (though all too real feeling) pandemic novel. Set in the 2090s, we follow a female narrator in New York who lives with her aloof husband who spends one free night every week out in the city. As she begins to unravel the mystery of her husband's affairs, we also hear about her father's sedition and grandfather's involvement in the government containment of many pandemics over the past few decades.

That is but a very brief and overly simplified synopsis of what this novel contains. In truth, each part serves as their own novel. The connections between the individual sections are tenuous, more thematic or through nomenclature. Motifs of a house in Washington Square, pandemics and illnesses, names like David, Charles, and Eden, and other 'easter eggs' pop up between the various sections. While these are fun allusions, at first, over time they become a bit tedious and do nothing to really serve the story besides allowing these sections to sit alongside one another as companions.

Unfortunately, I felt that while the technical aspects of this novel are exceptional, it lacked some of the emotional power her previous two novels contained. For those coming to this after A Little Life looking for a tearjerker: look elsewhere. Though it has some moments of raw power, it's overall tone is not as suffocatingly sorrowful. Yes, it deals with depressing topics of loneliness, losing loved ones, and second guessing if you made the correct choices in life. But the characters are not lived with enough to pull your heartstrings as much as one might expect.

What Yanagihara does excellently is craft sentences that flow so naturally, you forget you're reading a book. There were quite a few times, particularly in the first two parts of this book, that completely absorbed me. I'd say the first half of this novel definitely kept my attention more and piqued my curiosity. Sitting at around 180 pages each, parts one and two are fine novellas that ask interesting questions of loyalty, fate, family and love. It was in the second half of the book that I became lost. The dystopian, pandemic elements paired with an alternating POV structure that felt drawn out and redundant led me to get bored and lose interest in these bigger themes. The ending also felt a bit lackluster in part three, perhaps because it echoes some of the ambiguity of part one and two's endings.

There is promise in this novel, and I'll be so curious to hear what others think about it now that is has been released. However, I can't help thinking this would have been better with some editing; not just condensing but shifting around in structure or playing with some other elements that would have tied the stories together more than just by name. Perhaps then we would have had a knockout that Yanagihara is capable of. Nonetheless, I expect to see endless commentary on this in 2022 and for it to make its way on to many lists. I hope it inspires discussion around what exactly IS America, and how do we grapple with where we have been and where we are now to inform the society, and people, we hope to become—and are becoming.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
703 reviews3,276 followers
February 19, 2022
if "this zoom meeting could have been an email" was a book
Profile Image for jessica.
2,510 reviews31k followers
February 5, 2022
this is super bittersweet for me to rate and review. i was sooo looking forward to this. HYs ‘a little life’ is a completely life-altering book and i wanted that kind of experience again. and maybe that was just too high of expectations because sadly this falls very short.

the thing that kept me reading is HYs amazing writing. i am just so in love with her prose. there are some really gorgeous and powerful sentences in this. but other than that, im not walking away from this with anything else. and i think its because this book is actually three individual stories. which is fine. its very ‘cloud atlas,’ very ‘cloud cuckoo land.’ but i just wish the three stories were connected by something more than names and basic themes. they feel very separate to me and i honestly didnt like that. especially because i really only enjoyed one out of the three. had they had a deeper connection to each other, i think it would have been easier to overlook the sections i didnt love.

but i can tell you this - if this novel had just been the third story all on its own, this probably would have been a 5 star review. theres so much good content there, so its fortunate that story takes up the majority of the novel.

all in all, not the book i was expecting or hoping for. good on HY for trying something different, i guess, but i wasnt really feeling the structure of this one.

3 stars
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,427 reviews8,336 followers
January 15, 2022
Hanya Yanagihara, queen of writing controversial as f*ck books and also of breaking my heart. When I finished part three of To Paradise 30 minutes ago I literally lied down on the floor of my apartment and stared at the ceiling because I felt so, so amazed by this section of the book. While I found the quality of Yanagihara’s prose incredible throughout all the book’s sections, unfortunately other aspects of part one and part two either fell flat or outright offended me. To assign a rating of each section of To Paradise, I’m thinking: part one: 3 stars, part two: 1 star, part three: 5 stars. I’ll give my reaction to each section below followed by overall thoughts on what I’m confident will be a provocative novel for almost all who read it.

Part one takes place in 1893 America, New York, in an alternate world where gay and lesbian folks are free to love whomever they want, at least on the surface. We follow a wealthy man from a distinguished family resist a suitor of comparable means for a charming and impoverished music teacher. I found this section entertaining and frustrating. I felt the alternative, gay and lesbian-friendly society fascinating to explore and Yanagihara’s writing mesmerizing. However, the characterization of our protagonist, David, annoyed the heck out of me. While Yanagihara writes so well that I did feel some basic sympathy for him, he overall baffled me with his passivity, lack of agency, and inability to find any self-worth without the love of a romantic partner. My main reaction after finishing this section: “okay that was pleasant but what was the point of this.”

Part two takes place in 1993 Manhattan besieged by the AIDS pandemic. I’ll be frank: I hated this section of the novel. I almost never give 1 star ratings to books on Goodreads, however if this section of the novel stood on its own I’d give it 1 star without hesitation. The plot follows a young Hawaiian man in a romantic relationship with a rich older white man, and Yanagihara’s construction of their relationship offended me so much. I’m not Hawaiian, so I definitely want to respect actual queer Hawaiian folks’ perspective on this part of the book, though as a queer Vietnamese American man, I felt that she brought to life the worst stereotypes about queer Asian and Pacific Islander men in this section (e.g., we’re passive and submissive, we’re obsessed with white gay men, etc.) Our protagonist in part two is also named David and he turns his back both on his Hawaiian heritage and his female best friend Eden, an Asian woman, for a rich white man who works at the same office as him, for what?? She also includes fatphobic language and an anti-Black description of a Black character in ways that weren’t addressed at all and felt unnecessary. While this section includes some somewhat intriguing reflections on colonization, these themes did not amount to anything substantial enough to merit the oppressive parts. My main reaction after finishing this section: “well that was awful, at least she gave us A Little Life I guess, there’s no way I’m going to give To Paradise more than 2 stars after this mess.”

Part three takes place in 2093 in a world overrun by plagues and governed by totalitarian rule. We witness a renowned scientist’s granddaughter try to navigate life without him, in a society with strict rules about what you can say, think, and feel. This section of To Paradise riveted me, stunned me, and reminded me that Yanagihara is truly the same writer who wrote the tour de force A Little Life. So many amazing elements came together to create magic: this on-the-edge-of-your-seat, I-need-to-turn-the-pages-faster dystopian thriller sense of concern about the granddaughter’s life and wellbeing, the flashbackwards and flashforwards that describe in such rich quality both her life and her grandfather’s life, and the immense love that her grandfather feels for her coupled with his own complicity in oppression and wrongdoing. The epistolary element within this section, in which the grandfather writes to a beloved friend living abroad, worked so freaking well and cemented my love for how Yanagihara cares for and writes about friendship. My main reaction after finishing this section: “I’m going to go lie down on the floor to recover from what just happened to me, also if not for part two I’d give this book four stars as a whole.”

As you can tell from this already 740-word long review, this book elicited so many strong emotions from me. I’m pretty sure Yanagihara can evoke these feelings from me and other readers in large part because of the sheer quality of her prose. She has this way of making you connect so deeply with characters’ feelings and thoughts, such as through noticing the smallest yet most important details about how they interact or speak with other characters, as well as how they feel about themselves. She possesses at top-notch talent for crafting impeccably precise and impeccable sentences that either entrance you to read more or knock the wind out of you (reading the last pages of part three I actually felt like someone had punched me in the stomach in a great way.) There’s a lot of wild stuff that happens in To Paradise, like a reenvisioning of American history and a future envisioning of the world where we’re struck by plague after plague. At the same time she’s still able to center the narrative on the highs and lows of human emotion and relationships: connection and friendship and sex, disconnection and loneliness and death, and how our pasts and systems of power like class and race inextricably affect us.

A lot of books I give 3 stars because I felt that they were fine, like enjoyable though not that riveting or exciting. I give To Paradise 3 stars because I feel so divided by it, like I both loved it and hated it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the book, though I also wouldn’t not recommend the book. I loved Yanagihara’s A Little Life because of how Yanagihara captured what it’s like to live with PTSD and to experience both negative and positive relationships. I felt like parts one and two of To Paradise portrayed more of the negative aspects of relationships without much for readers to grab onto and root for, like the characters and their relationships either came across as passive or problematic. However, part three of this book highlighted to me the power and force of human yearning and affection, how these elements of our psyche can do both great harm and great good. As I’m processing while writing this review though, I almost wonder if the structure of this novel represents how maybe sometimes it takes multiple generations of life to pass before someone is able to or at least tries to be able to break cycles of pain and/or trauma. I felt Yanagihara’s repetition of character names effective in proving how emotions of loneliness, longing, and connection persist again and again throughout multiple iterations of the human experience. I do feel like part three built on the momentum of parts one and two and provided richer depth into the burgeoning themes of isolation and interconnection.

I’m gonna go work out so I can restore my body’s sense of equilibrium after this whop of a novel, lol. I’m so curious to read what others think of this one, especially because I’ve felt so appreciative of folks’ responses to my review of A Little Life. Also, I know Yanagihara has received criticism about writing so much from gay men’s perspectives from someone who is not a gay man. While I generally agree with these critiques, I won’t write more about it here because this review is already so long. However, for an #ownvoices queer male of color perspective, I’d also highly recommend the superb novel Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel which came out late in 2021!
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,107 followers
January 19, 2022
Big Book Energy

Hanya Yanagihara could have written A Little Life 2.0 but instead she said: ‘Let us write THREE books and smoosh them together, and let them be speculative and set at 100 year intervals, and at first glance they will have nothing in common, well except for the character names, which shalt be the same in each story to confuse and irritate everyone.’ This is a swaggering, bolshy, beast of a novel that doesn’t care what you want it to be.

To Paradise is capacious, covering love and loss, hope and delusion, prejudice and privilege, societal progress and regress, and so, so much. But mostly it is about choices, the decisions, actions, and inaction that determine the course of a person’s life or a country’s history. It’s about the shame, regret, the leaps of faith that attend these choices. At a page-by-page story level, it is compelling, engrossing reading.

In the first two sections, set in 1893 and 1993, Yanagihara toys with American history like a cat with yarn—upending the mainstream morality and politics of the times in ways big and small. I would not call this ‘alternate history’ because that genre typically deals in hypotheticals, a game of ‘if this, then what?’ that she refuses to play. Instead, it is a demonstration that the way things turn out are not inevitable or even likely—the timeline we are living is just one of many possibilities.

The third section, perhaps unfairly, will garner the most attention. Set in the mid-to-late 21st century, it imagines a totalitarian government during a time of rolling pandemics, through the eyes of two brilliantly rendered and complex characters. Some of the worldbuilding is a bit clunky but there are also a lot of great details (New Britain = New Coke?)

Many people will say these are three self-contained stories that did not need to be stitched together like this. Yes and no. Book I is a charming queer retelling of Henry James’ Washington Square. Book II is relationship-centric lit-fic about power imbalances, from the personal to the imperial, with a moving denouement. Book III is a smart, emotionally and morally complex, (some will say didactic, but if a global crisis is not the time for didacticism, when is?) dystopia. Separately, they all work.

But combining them, ah, this is the bravura. Reading Book III after the first two gives it an inflection that completely changes the tone from grim to buoyant, even hopeful: remember it doesn’t have to turn out this way. Yanagihara is not giving us some slippery slope cautionary tale, she’s showing us one possible timeline. A timeline determined by choices, which are manifold, complex and iterative, their outcomes not at all easily predicted.

Is To Paradise a novel destined to have a long or a short half-life? I really don’t know. Despite its heft, it could yet prove to be the latter: a firecracker, albeit one with a 700-page fuse, that blazes bright in its topical moment and drifts away on the smoke. It seems almost too flashy to endure. Either way, what a dazzler!
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,747 reviews1,201 followers
December 9, 2022
Hanya Yanagihara’s previous “Little Life” was shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize and (even despite not winning the prize) six years further on, still I think remains one of (if not) the shortlisted book from the last few years most likely to provoke some form of reaction in those who have read it. Selling an astonishing 250,000+ UK copies of a 700+ trigger-ladened US literary novel speaks for itself, and explains the excitement the 2022 publication of this book has provoked.

My own views on “Little Life” were complex and mixed – it is I think telling that the top review on Goodreads with 4000+ likes is titled “5 things I liked … and 5 things I didn’t like” (with a list of points that almost match my own thoughts), it is then followed by a mix of 1* and 5* reviews. My brother Paul in his review (which also identifies the book’s huge number of unarguable flaws alongside all its successes) captured it brilliantly as this is a book which will “divide opinions, even amongst the same person”

The author’s long awaited next novel is in many respects only like “A Little Life” in one respect – that there are parts of it that are excellent and parts that are far more questionable.

The novel is told in three Books – of which the second and third Books are both split into two narratives – although while those narratives in the third book are interleaved and have a very clear cohesion, the second Book itself reads like two distinct halves.

Book 1: "Washington Square" (after the Henry James novella) is in many respects a very competently and controlled but also very conventional Whartonesque fin de siècle story of a member of a privileged elite New York family, living in a large house in the titular square and having to choose between two futures via two potential partners – one an older respectable and rich candidate picked by his Grandfather in an arranged marriage, the other a far more “unsuitable” and penniless candidate his own age – to whom he is attracted but whose very fundamental unreliability is at the heart of their attraction.

The main character is David Bingham – one of three (long ago orphaned) children living with their Grandfather Nathaniel. While David's siblings Eden (married to her wife Eliza) and John (with his husband Peter) are settled with children, he is single, still living with his grandfather and his grandfather’s servant Matthew). His grandfather urges him to marry a widower Charles Griffiths (whose suitability rests more on family wealth than family name – David himself a lonely individual and not an ideal catch due to a series of depressive episodes he suffers) . Charles has his own manservant – Adams. David teaches art at a school endowed by the Bingham foundation and their encounters a salaried music teacher Edward Bishop and the two begin an affair. If he does he will forfeit his inheritance of the Washington Square House – something bequeathed to him at the start of the book – if not he may lose his future happiness and self-regard. The book itself is rather open ended – never revealing the consequences of his final choice.

The setting is 1893 – but an alternative 1893. The observant reader of the review will have realised that all the relationships are same sex – and the book is not set in the United States – but the Free States, a smaller sub-set of States that from what we can tell (the book largely refreshingly free from artificial expository sections or conversations) were not based on Puritan values but instead are formed around liberal ideals of sexual choice, education for both sexes, freedom of religious practice. The Free States seem closely aligned to the wider United States (with the illiberal West and the defeated but still racist Southern Colonies separate entities still) but with their own freedom and wealth – based around a series of founder families who maintain their bonds via largely same-sex arranged marriages.

I must admit I found the society rather troubling – and here I think we already see the ambiguity that for me seems intrinsic to any reading of Yanagihara’s work.

For while the society may indeed seem a liberal Paradise at least in terms of sexual rights (which for many liberals today is The touchstone) – it is based (in increasing order of appalling-ness) on: severe inequality entrenched via marriage; racial exclusion – racism is frowned upon in the Free States and the States act as an escape point for blacks from the Colonies, but racial diversity is very frowned on and the blacks are quickly helped to other States where they will be more suitable; genocide – as Native Americans were simply massacred.

But then of course so is America in all its “Manifest Destiny” – and this I think is exactly what the author explores and asks us to consider. How do we feel about the Destiny. How Manifest really was it. What is America and what could it have been and what could it become. What groups are allowed to be free and who is excluded.

The author has said: “It was the sense of possibility, of how easily America could have been something else, how easily it could become something else, that I wanted to explore in all three of these books. Because there have been certain moments in America’s creation, certain turning points where the country could have gone another way. So, in that sense [the novel is] not quite speculative and it’s not quite fantasy, but I’m interested in general in these sorts of hinge moments, in either personal history or national history, in which a choice is made that sets you barrelling down one course and a different choice could have meant something profoundly different. All three of the parts of this book are marked, I think, or identified by very personal stories against the background of much larger questions about national identity and what a nation must do, what it can do, what it should do and the very real consequences it has for these small individual lives within them.”

Now so far I have described the first book, to summarise (in what effectively becomes a game of Hanya-bingo):

Fin de siècle temporal setting. New York geographical setting. A large house on Washington Square. The family names – Griffiths and Bingham and Bishop (all incidentally names of early missionaries to Hawaii – so that implicitly Hawaiian colonisation is part of the story) – and the relationships forming between them. Main characters called – Charles/Charlie, David, Edward, Peter. Others called – Nathaniel, Eden, Eliza, Matthew. A manservant Adams. Privileged elites in society. An America divided not just along class and race lines but actually divided into different state groupings. The phrase - “America is/was not for everyone”. Societal attitudes to male homosexual relationships. Grandparent choices on behalf of a grandchild. An unresolved ending. A closing reference to a journey into an unknown paradise

The next two books begin at exact 100 year intervals, seemingly starting largely from scratch and not even in the same “alternate” timeline. While ostensibly very different – every element of my bingo card (and I am sure many more besides) recurs in each.

[Actually I was down an Eliza on the second Book]

The author has said; “They are not meant to be the same people across centuries, nor living in the same America …………….. It was this idea of just taking the country
and turning it a half tweak on the dial each time. The people always had different selves, but the names themselves remain; just like the name of America remains for each generation, but America itself is something quite different.”

And I would note that it is not just the names of the characters that recur - their status does to (see my comment 10 below my review).

Book 2: Lipo-Wao-Nahele is as I implied above a book of two distinct halves. The first part (and I have to say for me by far the weakest of the whole novel) is a rather conventional and well told but rather tedious AIDS era tale (AIDS is not mentioned by name but it is hard to see this as much of an alternate timeline) set among the homosexual elite of New York. David (“Kawika” – the Hawaiian equivalent) Bingham is a young Hawaiian-origin paralegal whose lover is a senior partner Charles Griffiths. Much of the action takes place at a party held before the assisted death of Charles’s lifelong friend (and ex-lover) Peter. David has a (for much of the half) unopened letter which he knows says that his long estranged father is dying and he will need to visit.

The second part is perhaps the oddest and introduces the one part of my my bingo card only implicit in the first book – the colonisation of Hawaii. It is effectively an internal monologue addressed to David by his father – also Wika. The older Wika (the father) is living largely physically and mentally incapacitated (it seems through choice – a choice he has decided to reverse by surprising his son when he comes to pay last respect) in a care home. In his monologue he tells his life story – something which his son never really understood. Wika is effectively the deposed Crown Prince of Hawaii (the descendant of the last Queen who abdicated when America annexed the Island) but for all his grandmother’s pride he was unwilling to take on the role expected of him and drifted in life. But then he was taken in hand by a friend - Edward Bishop – who, inspired by Black Power movements in the US in the 1960s espouses a radical form of Hawaiian independence, the two eventually forming an ill-founded commune on some deserted ancient forest land which is part of Wika’s family inheritance (and which gives this section its name) . The encounter between son and father does not happen – so the story is both not resolved - but is also not really tied up between the two sections (it is really not that easy to relate the father to the son).

Interestingly though one the black activists that radicalises Edward does raise exactly the fault lines which I felt were missing from the way in which the Free States are portrayed

“And in the same way, nothing has really changed here. America is a country with sin at its heart. You know what I’m talking about. One group of people sent away from their land; another group of people stolen from their land. We replaced you, and yet we never wanted to replace you— we wanted to be left where we were. None of our ancestors, our great-great-great-grandparents, ever woke up one day and thought: Let’s sail halfway around the world, be part of a land grab, pit ourselves against some other native peoples. No way, no how. That is not how normal people, decent people, think— that is how the devil thinks. But that sin, that mark, never goes away, and although we didn’t cause it, we are all infected by it.

Book 3: Zone Eight was by far the strongest of the novel, it is the part that will make the novel so zeitgeisty but also the part that will I think be hardest for people to read and the part that is the most problematic.

There are two sections – the first is set in a extremely dystopian 2093 – New York is part of a totalitarian State (an unspecified part of America) where pretty well every freedom has been sacrificed to counter the existential threat of periodic and devastatingly deadly pandemics. The main character is Charlie Bingham-Griffith – a quiet and rather unemotive lab-technician in the research labs which effectively (under Chinese supervision) dominate not just the economy but the society. She is in a marriage of convenience with a homosexual – Edward Bishop – an aquatic gardener in the same facilities. Their marriage in a society which is focused on child raring to deal with a population denuded of its children by the regular pandemics is permitted as both are sterile - Charlie due to the side-effects of life-saving anti-virals, David by choice as he was deemed a subversive and took sterility as an alternate to recorrection camps.

As time goes on, and with the increasing threat of a new even more terrible pandemic, Charlie befriends the rather mysterious David – who she meets in the square where she lives (one of the few permitted activities being listening to storytellers – in a rather clever aside (and deliberate author acknowledgement of the frustration readers might feel with the first two parts) she remembers a previous storyteller telling the story of Book One, ending ("to groans of disappointment"), “And next week, I’ll tell you what happened to the man”.

The second strand is an interwoven series of letters written over some 45 years (2043-2088) by Charlie’s grandfather Charles to an English acquaintance (and likely ex-lover) Peter. Charles is involved in the American research to pandemics and Peter in the English response – both rising into government/state circles over time beyond just academia. Early on we read

So I gave him my short speech about infectious diseases and how I spent my days trying to anticipate the newest ones, playing up the statistics that civilians love hearing, because civilians love to panic: How the 1918 flu killed fifty million people, which led to additional, but less disastrous, pandemics in 1957, 1968, 2009, and 2020. How, since the 1970s, we’ve been living in an era of multiple pandemics, with a new one announcing itself at the rate of every five years. How viruses are never truly eliminated, only controlled. How decades of excessive and reckless prescribing of antibiotics had given rise to a new Family of microbes, one more powerful and durable than any in human history. How habitat destruction and the growth of megacities has led to our living in closer proximity to animals than ever before, and therefore to a flourishing of zoonotic diseases. How we’re absolutely due for another catastrophic pandemic, one that this time will have the potential to eliminate up to a quarter of the global population, putting it on par with the Black Death of more than seven hundred years ago, and how everything in the past century, from the outbreak of 2030 through last year’s episode in Botswana, has been a series of tests that we’ve ultimately failed, because true victory would be treating not just each outbreak individually but developing a comprehensive global plan, and because of that, we’re inevitably doomed.

(As an aside there seems to be a very major error in this paragraph with the completely out of place reference to antibiotic resistance – fascinating for bacterial disease, irrelevant for viruses)

Charles marries Nathaniel and they have when they move a very young son David – both from Hawaii but tears their family away to the US for his career – something Nathaniel always resents. Hawaii itself regains independence but is then devasted by pandemic. As time progresses the state takes greater measures to contain pandemics including a series of controversial quarantine camps – which in some cases are little more than places for people to die – and Charles is increasingly involved with the policies and their increasingly illiberal drift. This is to the disgust of the increasingly radicalised and conspiracy theorist turned activist turned later terrorist David (who in the meantime has a daughter Charlie by an activist Eden). Later though – Charles himself starts to realise that David's once absurd accusations are becoming true as liberty is sacrificed to fear and we begin to see how the dystopia of Charlie’s world emerged.

Over the years, I’ve been astonished at and dismayed by and fearful of how acquiescent the public has proven to be: Fear of disease, the human instinct to stay healthy, has eclipsed almost every other desire and value they once treasured, as well as many of the freedoms they had thought inalienable. That fear was yeast to the state, and now the state generates its own fear when they feel the population’s is flagging.

This last section builds, in both sections to something of a climax, one of these around the legality of gay marriage and then Charles's fate as an insurgency starts to look for people to blame; the other around the fate of Charlie and David – with the now inevitable lack of resolution of the latter.

Now this last part of the novel left me troubled. It feels like Charles’s prediction has some grounding in current America – but seems to have the politics almost exactly the wrong way around.

In Hanya’s telling via Charles – the fear of viral pandemic and the resulting shredding of liberties is exploited by a totalitarian right wing state (the clear signifier in this book of a right wing attitude is the opposition to same sex – particularly male – relationships and marriage and this is the very thing Charles fears will happen when he writes these words). And is left leaning radicals like David who oppose this and propose conspiracy theories – few (if any) founded initially but some prescient.

But of course in the real world (particularly the real America) it is the liberal left who feel liberties should be constrained (mask wearing compulsory, businesses shut down, schools and economy put on hold, quarantines and policing of gatherings, vaccine passports or even compulsory vaccines) and those on the right (who are almost always opposed to gay marriage and other liberal ideas) who strongly oppose this and who form the conspiracy theories.

With the net result that large parts of this last part feel like they could actually have been written by (or at least will strengthen the views) of anti-vaxxers (although it should be noted that oddly vaccines are mentioned precisely once) and anti-lockdown protesters. Perhaps though this section is again meant to be about an alternate America and warn against the dangers of how exogenous threats now seem to increase rather then decrease polarisation in American society.

Overall though a fascinating novel – one sure I feel to provoke debate, like and dislike, just like “A Little Life” albeit for entirely different reasons.

I will be very surprised if this does not appear on major Prize lists in 2022.

My thanks to Pan Macmillan for an ARC via NetGalley
May 27, 2022
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My disappointment is immeasurable, and my day is ruined.

If you’ve read my review for A Little Life you know how much that novel means to me. Just looking at my hardback copy makes me feel all sorts of intense feelings. So, naturally, my expectations were high for To Paradise. At first, the Cloud Atlas-esque premise did intrigue me. ​​To Paradise is a door-stopper of a book that is divided into three ‘books’. These ‘books’ are united by their shared setting (New York) and themes (freedom, illness, identity, privilege, familial and romantic love, notions of utopia, familial duty vs self, betrayal, desire). On paper, this sounded amazing, and I was looking forward to being once again swept away by Yanagihara’s storytelling...except that it never quite happened.

“Each of them wanted the other to exist only as he was currently experiencing him as if they were both too unimaginative to contemplate each other in a different way.”

The first two books did hold my attention and I even felt emotionally invested in the characters (even if they did pale in comparison to the characters populating A Little Life).
Book I takes place in an alternate America in 1893 where New York is part of the Free States where same-sex couples can marry unlike in the Colonies (ie other US states) and gender equality prevails (there was something about it that brought to mind books by Natasha Pulley).
The story follows David Bingham who lives with his grandfather on Washington Square. The Binghams are a distinguished and wealthy family and David is accustomed to a life of privilege. While his siblings have married and gone on to have families of their own and/or successful careers, David leads a quiet and sedentary life, keeping himself to himself and mostly interacting with his grandfather. One day a week David teaches art in an orphanage/school and it is here that he comes across the new music teacher, Edward Bishop. David falls fast and hard for Edward in spite of his possible arranged union to Charles Griffith, an older gentleman who his grandfather approves of. David knows that his family would never approve of penniless Edward who has little to no social standing. The two nevertheless become romantically involved and David struggles to keep his dalliance a secret. While he does become more aware of the limitations many citizens of the so-called Free States experience, his naive nature remains relatively unchanged. Readers are made aware that this alternate New York is far from idyllic as class and race play a major role in one’s quality of life. David himself, who is white, expresses prejudiced opinions about POC, and, until Edward, was quite unaware of the realities of having to work for one’s living. Over the course of this section characters or the narrative itself will allude to David’s illness, but Yanagihara refrains from delving into specifics. We see what others think of David’s fragility and solitary lifestyle, and the shame that David himself feels because of his illness. The story, like the following ones, has a very slow pacing. Here it kind of works as we are able to grow accustomed to this alternate America and to the various characters, David in particular. The tension of this story is very much created by David’s hidden relationship with Edward. Various events force David to question whether Edward is genuinely in love with him or whether he’s being played like Millie in Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove. The melancholic setting is well-rendered and perfectly complemented Yanagihara’s formal yet piercing prose. Nevertheless, overall I was able to appreciate this section, even if the ending is somewhat abrupt and left me longing for a clearer resolution/conclusion. For some reason, I thought that the later sections would fill in the gaps left by this 1st tale but I’m afraid they did not. Also, I wish that the author could have envisioned an alternate past without racial discrimination, or at least, that she could have then dedicated more than a throwaway lines on the issue.

The second section is set in 1993 during the AIDS epidemic. David Bingham, a young Hawaiian man, is a paralegal who becomes involved with one of his firm’s senior partners, Charles. Charles is much older and wealthier than David and this often creates friction in their relationship. Charles’ friends, who, like him are white and older than David, do little to include David, often making jabs at his expenses or insinuating that he’s only after Charles’ money. The power dynamic between Charles and David is decidedly skewed. We also learn of David’s parentage and of the weight he carries because of it. There is quite a lot of ambiguity surrounding his difficult relationship with his father who suffers from an undisclosed illness. The AIDS epidemic also forces David to reconcile himself with his own mortality and the failings of the human body. The drama unfolding between David and Charles was compelling. They have led drastically different lives and move in very different circles. David struggles to adapt to Charles’ lifestyle and no matter how hard he tries he feels alienated from Charles’ set. Throughout the course of book II there are some beautiful meditations on life, death, and love that certainly struck a chord with me. Alas, book II is divided into two parts and only the first one follows David (who is the most likeable David of the lot). Part II is structured as a letter/confession of sorts penned by David’s father. Here we move to Hawaii and we learn more about David’s complicated family history and the eventual dissolution of his family.

Book III, which begins around the 50% mark, is what ruined this book for me. It was a mess. It's 2093 and the world is apparently beset with plagues. We switch to a 1st person narration and our protagonist is living in this generically dystopian New York that is divided into various Zones, some of which have more access to water and food resources. In a move that screams YA dystopia, our female narrator comes across a mysterious man who is dangerously critical of the government. Interspersed throughout her chapters are letters written by her grandfather to one of his closest friends. They provide a blow-by-blow account of the years leading to this dystopian and totalitarian New York and the crucial role he played in it. This part was boring to the extreme. I found that the author’s old-fashioned prose, which really suited Book I & even Book II to be at odds with her dystopian setting. There is also an attempt at mystery by not using the characters’ names (the narrator refers to her grandfather as grandfather and her husband as my husband and this mysterious man as ‘you’). I had no interest in anything that was being said. There were a lot of pandemics, illnesses, plagues, some science lite and I could not bring myself to care for any of it. I kept reading hoping that this Book III would be the bow that ties all of these books together but it never did. We once again have characters sharing the same names but once again the dynamics are slightly different. They do not share the same personality traits as their earlier ‘incarnations’ which left me wondering why did they even have to have the same names to begin with. At one point in Book II David goes on about ‘what ifs’ and parallel universes when thinking about his relationship with Charles.
But that was more or less it. Why do we get the same characters but not really? The many Davids (spoiler: there is more than 3) populating these stories have little in common. They are all male and feel things (to different degrees i might add). Other than that, I didn’t really believe that they were reincarnations of the same David (a la Cloud Atlas). While I was at least able to appreciate the author’s storytelling and themes in the first two books, the last one spoiled things big time. I had to skim read it (something i am not fond of doing). It was a lifeless and unconvincing story narrated by a one-dimensional narrator who sounds like the classic dystopian heroine who has been indoctrinated by whatever evil government. The dystopian setting is stagy, characterised by tired tropes and severely lacking in depth.

I’ll be honest, I did not get the point of this book. Even if I did find book I & II compelling enough, those stories feel ultimately unresolved and lack direction. Book III was a flop.
A Little Life was a tour de force that left me equal parts awestruck and heartbroken. The characters felt real and so did their individual stories. To Paradise instead never fully convinced me. Even the first two books at times came across as affected. And while the themes the author explores in To Paradise have potential, well, she did a much better job with them in A Little Life. Here, both the characters and the relationships they have to one another, well, they are miles behind the ones from A Little Life. Even the 'earlier' Davids struck me as relatively bland and forgettable. The supposed love they feel for their families or partners, it didn't always ring true to life. While there are one or two queer women they make cameo appearances only which was a bit frustrating given that we could have had one story dedicated to them (they could have been female versions of david & co). But nope.

If you are interested in this novel I encourage you check out more positive reviews. Maybe I'm just not the right reader for this type of supposedly interconnected narratives...

edit: it appears that my opening line has been quoted in an article on the new yorker. i would have not minded if the writer of that article had not proceeded to imply that i did not give Yanighara the 'benefit of the doubt'. mate, maybe next time don't just quote the first line of my review, especially given that it was a meme, and take time to read my review. i mean, aren't you supposed to be a 'professional'? 1) i went quite in depth in regards to the reasons why this book did not 'work' for me, i didn't just write: tHis SUckS, iT iSN't LiKE A liTtLe LiFE, 2) i did not dnf this, i may have skim-read the last hundred pages i did read it, so to say that i did not give her the benefit of the doubt is, if you'll excuse my language, f*cking bullshit.
Profile Image for Olivia (Stories For Coffee).
585 reviews5,590 followers
March 2, 2022

I truly don’t know what Hanya was trying to do with a revisionist version of early America. She went wild with degrading Black people and there were far too many anti-indigenous comments thrown into the first half of the book.

I was grasping for a reason as to why she was setting the first third of her novel in this time period. Was it to excuse the racism she so happily sprinkled into the novel? What was the true point of this first third of the novel? I tried to understand her mindset but gave up because the plot was going no where and all these characters were irredeemable in my eyes, due to their blatant prejudice.

Many will defend this novel and say, “Well, it’s set in 1893 America! This is what happened back then!”

Racism was still disgusting back then.

You see how “Hamilton” used none of that language on stage?

Be more like “Hamilton.”
Profile Image for David.
237 reviews489 followers
December 18, 2022
This is a hot mess of a book, a three-part fictionalized account of a past and future United States. The heart of the work is Book 3, a compelling dystopian depiction of a late 21st century New York, ravaged by a series of deadly pandemics and captive to a political situation that has clamped down on civil liberties in disturbing yet believable ways. The epistolary chapters are particularly effective, showing how scientific professionals can become complicit in an authoritarian regime. The problem is that Book 3, itself almost 350 pages, doesn’t begin until page 361. Books 1 and 2 foreshadow some of the themes developed later but are incomplete in themselves. The first two books are unnecessary (and unnecessarily long) appendages to what might otherwise have been the literary event of the year. The book screams out for a diligent editor, armed not with a red pen but a good pair of scissors.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,474 reviews2,311 followers
January 21, 2022
When Hanya Yanagihara publishes a new book, it is a global event: For months now, publishers have been fueling discussions and speculations about "To Paradise". While Houellebecq, French literary superstar, made journalists legally declare to not publicly say one word about his new oeuvre before the publication date, Yanagihara had expensively packaged review copies shipped to bloggers and journalists all over the world. Both strategies are of course tools to create hype, but Yanagihara’s approach underlines that she is not here for the intellectual elites, no, she counts on the readers. Does that mean that her novel tries to please audiences?

“To Paradies” deals with the American experiment: The American dream as a political and social project. In three sections - each could be read as an individual novel -, the author reflects on what the United States were and what they could be. In order to illustrate the points that are important to her, Yanagihara alters historical facts and designs alternative worlds: Because what if everything was a little different from the reality we know?

The first story of the triptych takes place in 1893. With this part of the novel, Yanagihara bows to Henry James and his work Washington Square: Protagonist David Bingham, offspring of a wealthy banking family, lives at this very address in New York. As it is customary in the narrated world, he is expected to enter an arranged marriage with a respected man. However, David falls in love with a penniless musician.

In the second part, we travel 100 years into the future, to 1993. Now the New York-based author with Hawaiian roots is writing about another David Bingham. He is a descendant of the last king of Hawaii and resides in New York at the height of the AIDS crisis. Meanwhile, his father is dying in Hawaii.

The third part then takes up almost half of the novel and takes place mainly in the year 2093, in a dystopian future determined by pandemics and climate change. The story is alternately told by Charles, a virologist with Hawaiian roots, and his granddaughter Charlie, who is suffering from the aftermath of a pandemic she survived as a child.

The stories are linked not only through the overarching theme of the American experiment, but also through numerous recurring motifs, such as the house on Washington Square, the history of Hawaii, questions of identity politics, the topics of illness and freedom, and the importance of family and partnership. Again and again, characters come to New York to prove themselves and are confronted with personal and national shame.

Characters with the same name appear in all three parts, some of them could theoretically be related, others not. The novel can be read as a large literary jigsaw puzzle in which all the pieces deliberately do not fit into one another: the American experiment cannot be put together to create a uniform picture.

The third part is also a COVID novel, because as in every dystopia, this story is actually not about the future, but about our present. The author thinks about loneliness and fear of contagion and designs a totalitarian, inhumane society. This literary processing of the pandemic comes up with sometimes provocative and even problematic aspects, but offers different paths of interpretation. Not-so-fun-fact: The first review of the novel that was published in a German newspaper was a full page and did not even mention the plot of the book or ponder the aesthetic ambition; rather, it started with the author (you guessed it: an old, white man) mocking identity politics and then ranting about Yanagihara telling the story of a totalitarian government and a society devastated by recurring pandemics. His take: This book has no literary merit and it is not defendable to even tell a story like that. Don’t get me wrong: I also found some parts of the story problematic (as mentioned), but novels are no means to an end and authors are no health ministers, but artists. The atricle, in its boundless idiocy, has proven that writing a story like that must be permissible, if only to discuss it in all its possible implications (plus: if Yanagihara has presented altered versions of the past, why do readers suppose that the third part is what she actually expects will happen? Maybe it’s more a story reflecting our fears related to loneliness and societal division? Plus: What about the parallel between the AIDS crisis and the pandemic, see also To the Friend who Didn't Save my Life?).

While the text suffers from some lengths, excessive explanations of the alternative worlds and inconsistencies, this is unquestionably relevant literature. Not only because the novel is certain to find a large readership, but because Yanagihara knows how to process the zeitgeist and how to ask questions - with regard to the identity of people and societies.

You can listen to my radio piece (in German) here.
Profile Image for ally.
79 reviews3,837 followers
January 30, 2022
i dnf-ed her at 200 pages; i’m sorry.
it put me in a serious reading slump.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,923 reviews35.4k followers
January 20, 2022
Audiobook….(purchased) > narrated by a full cast.
…..28 hours and 47 minutes
I read the first 50% …
The last 50%, I read & listened to the audiobook…
NOTE…my god… The voice narrator in the last section, book 3 was so outlandishly animated when needed to be - to express specific important text— he BLEW ME AWAY!

“It is a dark, dark world. If you’re going to be in a dark world, I can’t think of any better one to be in. I still think I’m very lucky to be in it”.
……James Gandolfini

“To Paradise”…
…Three divisions….(call them books, or sections, or classifications, ….possibly even ‘rankings’)…but there are three different centuries —1893, 1993, 2093—portraying three alternate versions of America.


1893, NewYork, ….. Book I
The setting is Washington Square — The grand ‘Washington House’ was practically a main character itself. The Bingham family
Grandfather, Nathaniel, raised his three grandchildren after their parents died when they were small children:
David, (oldest not married),
John, (married to Peter). They had one child.
Eden, (married to Eliza). They had two children.

David helps raise his nephews but would like to have children of his own one day.

Secretary Francis Holson, privy to almost every detail of Bingham’s lives, arranges the siblings marriages.

“Arranged marriages had begun around a century ago as a way for the first families who settled the Free States to create strategic alliances and consolidate their wealth”.
“As to why the arranged marriages still endured, Grandfather’s theory was because significant dynasties soon arose from those marriages, it became essential for the financial integrity of the States for them to continue. Grandfather spoke of them as one might cultivate trees—
“the maintaining of a web of roots upon which the nation thrives and flowers”.
“Quite poetic for a banker. And patriotic”.

Grandfather intended to divide his estate to the three siblings equally. At one of their Sunday evening dinners…he tells them…
“You all have personal items and assets from your parents, of course, but I have assigned you each some of my own treasures, things I think you or your children will enjoy, individually. The discovery of those will have to wait until I am no longer with you. There has been money set aside for any children you may have. For the children you already have, I have established trusts: Eden, there is one apiece for Wolf and Rosemary; John, there is one for Timothy as well. And, David, there is an equal amount for any of your potential heirs”.
“Bingham Brothers will remain in control of its board of directors, and its shares will be divided among the three of you. You will each retain a seat on the board. Should you decide to sell your shares, the penalties will be steep, and you must offer your siblings the opportunity to buy them first, at a reduced rate, and then the sale must be approved by the rest of the board.”

…Eden was getting Frog’s Pond Way and the Fifth Avenue apartment.
…John was getting the Larkspur estate and the Newport house.
…David would be getting the Washington Square and the Hudson cottage.

Grandfather didn’t enforce arranged marriages — (same sex marriages were a non-issue….common in fact)….
but Grandfather Nathaniel highly approved of Charles Griffin for David.
Charles, once married, was substantially older than David…..(his husband had died of cancer)…..
So…David had some dates with Charles….(dinners, concerts, plays, walks, talks: books, music, travel, etc.).
“David sometimes paused in his *perambulations* of the city for cake and coffee”….
NOTE*….like the fancy word: “perambulations”. ( I did).

So…..Charles was (obviously), waiting, courting, hoping, for David to be ready and say ‘yes’ to their arranged marriage.
Soon he meets Edward Bishop….a new music teacher where David was
taught (volunteered), Art to children who were required by the law of Free States to attend school.
David was immediately seductively enthralled with the young tight abbs Edward …..
“What if he was a mere *fibbertigibbet*, man who sought only pleasure”.

[Blessings Hanya Yanagihara for the entertaining vocabulary]

David finds himself in a quandary….*Charles/Edward* perplexities!

No way am I telling the end of this tale….or even the journey…
But hot damn — I was emotionally engrossed — very invested in the characters! I loved it.

In Book II ….. 1993 Lipo-Wao-Nahele
I felt a little jolted at first.
I still wanted to be back in Book I.
Eventually my mind settled. And, having been to Kauai recently…and having read “Hawaii” recently by James Michener….
I found myself invested in the Royal Family in Hawaii, the characters and personal tales from the AIDS epidemic.

Themes between love and security- struggling and suffering — privileged and poverty- identity, race, oppression, freedom, colonization of Hawaii, — snubbing, shunning, and marginalizing the natives — of their land and language - their ‘names’ —
was written with SO MUCH feeling’ ——
I couldn’t help but feel the maddeningly HORRIFIC INJUSTICE….
Yikes ….I wanted to scream (along with the voice narrator at one point).

“The sin of America never goes away. We didn’t cause it. We were all infected by it”…..

Thinking about our current last few years - along with this book -
I took a little reading break before beginning book III
I CONTINUED to be deep in thought about this novel during reading breaks— exhausted- mixed emotions - new vocabulary- but honestly
I was all in!

Break over …

BOOK III…..Zone Eight
is SCARY!!!
It’s frightening to consider the details — daily life in 2093 ……
Hygiene centers, raccoon, and horse meat common meals?
Bare trees? … The scientist and their secrets—
Want to read a mystery thriller? No chance in 2093…

…..but as horrifying as imaging the details in book III,
I think it’s the most brilliant book of all. It could be a standalone book - or a movie.
I don’t think it’s totally perfect - but it’s the most thought provoking book about a bleak future ——that I’ve ‘ever’ read.

I can understand readers having a wide range of thoughts about this dystopia third book …
But for me — The cerebral thought process alone was worth everything.
I can’t ever forget what I just read. I had never even thought about some of the things in this section- EVER!
Kudos to Hanya Yanagihara….

between my emotional LOVE for book I —
anger and sadness for book II
SHOCKING things I had NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED…..in Book III….(while adoring the female Charlie- “Little Cat”)…..
and the reality that there may never be a way of fix the injustice in America. ….
I’m left with the thought, but I have a choice — I don’t have to fill my heart with hate. I can fill it with love.

This book is not about pineapple, rainbows, hula girls, or the free public library in New York….
But its ambitious….(with wonderful characters)….

It’s powerful….engaging….and very thought provoking.
Profile Image for Talkincloud.
153 reviews3,206 followers
April 19, 2022

Pozwólcie, że napiszę elaborat, gdy już się pozbieram po tym lekkim rozczarowaniu.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
475 reviews1,312 followers
January 31, 2022
After being punched in the gut, the heart and the soul with A Little Life, I wasn’t sure this massive tome could hold a candle to it.
This is one epic novel at 704 pages.

It is broken up into 3 generations, 3 centuries. First one, 1893 an alternate version of the US. Free states where men marry men in order to build their capital. The next generation/story, takes place in 1993 during the AIDS epidemic. Book 3 Is where I got lost. AKA Zone 8. It goes from 2083 backwards and had far too many characters -with the same names! -and I was losing track of who was who and who fit where in this family tree. It was also focussed on future pandemics & quarantines & viruses - enough - which may result in losing readers here as may be too soon to consider a more devastating outcome than what we have just gone through.

Perhaps a hierarchy of who’s who may have helped. The writing is extraordinary but it couldn’t make up for this feeling of where am I? What year is it? Who are the current characters?
It’s a slippery slope and once I started going down it, I lost traction.
It didn’t end well for me or this story.

If anyone can give me a compelling reason to finish it, perhaps I will. But for now, sadly, it’s going on my DNF shelf & I'll give it 2** as I really loved the first story and enjoyed the 2nd.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
653 reviews3,203 followers
March 18, 2022
Though Hanya Yanagihara's “A Little Life” was a million-copy bestseller, it also sharply divided readers with some hailing it a life-changing triumph and others deriding it as manipulative misery porn. The author's new equally lengthy 700-page novel “To Paradise” is eliciting similarly mixed responses as Alex Preston has already declared it a “masterpiece for our times” in the Guardian while in Harper's Rebecca Panovka criticised the novel's aspiration to be an “epidemiological cautionary tale” and posits that “if the antidote to dangerous ideas is didactic storytelling, I have to wonder (apparently with Yanagihara) whether the cure is worse than the disease.” I'm sure some other readers will similarly overly hail or excessively disparage this new novel in an argumentative fashion. However, rather than making a strident declaration about my overall assessment of “To Paradise” my gut response and balanced opinion is that it's an impressive, thought-provoking epic (especially because it remains so wonderfully engaging for hundreds and hundreds of pages), but its structure also presents some uniquely frustrating difficulties.

The novel centres around one New York City square, but its three different sections straddle three different centuries with three very different stories. Not only do the circumstances and characters radically change between parts, but so does the style of each section as they move from a Jamesian psychological/social drama couched in an alternate history to a dystopian future where the draconian government takes severe measures to contain a multitude of deadly new plagues. Also the characters between sections share little or no connection to each other (though certain links eventually become clear) these different individuals all have the same names: David, Charles and Edward. At one point a character wryly comments: “that is a lot of Davids”. Though this all sounds extremely confusing as an outline one of the wonders of this novel is that it all becomes quite clear during the actual experience of reading the book.

You can also watch me discuss "To Paradise" here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-Kvj091JMI
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,024 reviews48.4k followers
January 11, 2022
Almost seven years have passed since Hanya Yanagihara published “A Little Life,” a devastating story about four friends in New York City. The novel earned a large audience and widespread critical acclaim — all deserved — but even readers who loved “A Little Life” may still feel traumatized by the plot’s unrelenting agony.

Brace yourself.

Yanagihara is back with a daunting new book titled “To Paradise.” The emotional impact of this novel is less visceral than “A Little Life,” but only because the author’s scope is now so vast and her dexterity so dazzling. Presented as a triptych of related novellas, “To Paradise” demonstrates the inexhaustible ingenuity of an author who keeps shattering expectations.

Calling the three parts of “To Paradise” novellas is stretching the term and calling them related is an act of faith. The last one, at almost 350 pages, could have been published as a stand-alone novel. But the way these disparate stories speak to one another across 200 years through a chorus of echoes makes their subtle coalescence all the more tantalizing. Keep that in mind: This isn’t a novel to be sampled 10 pages at a time before bed. Yanagihara makes strong demands on her readers; those who forsake all else and let this epic consume them will find it most rewarding.

The first section, “Washington Square,” immediately signals its debt to. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Jaidee .
572 reviews1,071 followers
October 7, 2022
5 "The pinnacle of reading" stars !!!

I have no way to get across to Ms. Yanagihara what this novel means to me and the depth of my emotional experience.

In humbleness, I composed a little poem to thank her for this ultimate peak life experience.

To paradise
In a world that is chaos, uneven and mean
I look into your amber eyes and am comforted
Your pale papery hand dabs beneath my watery eyes
Cool, soft and loving as I yield
Be still

Yanagihara, an empress of empath
A divine and painful trilogy
Wisdom untethered with otherness, with queerness, with poignancy
Loss for a privileged few but devastation and cruelty for most

Hanya, take me to Hawaii, New York and London
Fill my heart to overflowing so that I can spill
So that my own love's eyes can mirror mine and soothe that ache
I need to live despite the horrors
I need to love
The space between me and him and me and you are deep
To paradise
Yes, To paradise -Jaidee

Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
468 reviews165k followers
December 22, 2022
I'm a big fan of Hanya Yanagihara's writing style. It's fueled with raw emotions and it creates an atmosphere that feels *so* real. Unfortunately I left this one feeling underwhelmed. I kept waiting for some sort of pull to get me invested, but nothing ever surfaced. The plot of each section felt rather dry, making it hard to want to keep moving forward. I did enjoy a majority of the characters and seeing how they handled the things that life was throwing their way.

I honestly feel like had the three sections of the book been connected in a stronger way then I would have felt stronger about this one.
Profile Image for Dennis.
747 reviews1,429 followers
November 11, 2021
Before I get started. To Paradise is not, and will never be, A Little Life. Do not even think to compare the two books before jumping into Hanya Yanagihara's 2022 novel or you will be disappointed.

There's a new trend that I'm seeing lately—first with Anthony Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land and now with Hanya Yanagihara's To Paradise , where the story is an epic tale told across multiple timelines and characters, separate from each other, but providing major themes and takeaways for the reader. With To Paradise , we are given three stories, separate from each other, but provided in alternative universes from each other.

Book 1 takes place in 1893 and is ultimately my favorite section. In a world where the United States is broken into the "Free States" of the Northeast and "The Colonies" of the South, the story focuses in the North where gay and queer people are celebrated and able to marry whomever they want. We follow David Bingham and his family's legacy in the Free States. David is the only unwed Bingham out of his siblings, with his grandfather aggressively pushing for David to marry. David's dilemma in a world where marriage and love may feel free, he ultimately is given choices that say otherwise.

Book 2 takes place during the HIV crisis between a couple with a major age discrepancy. The younger partner, with a heritage and life that his partner and friends can't relate. I don't want to give up anything with this section, but I will say that this section felt most like the world in which we live in, but during the 1980s.

Book 3 is the biggest portion of the book, about half of the entire book takes place during this time. This world is in the future—their current day is 2093, with flashbacks from 50 years ago and so on. This section is a destitute place of totalitarian rule. A world in which climate change, pandemics, hunger, and the lack of freedoms have run rampant. This world is a dark perception of what may possibly come in our world's progression in time.

Without giving anything away, To Paradise is a book in which characters are hypothesized to be parts of different "universes" and in different versions of themselves with the worlds they are given. The book at times may seem like a work of fiction, but the topics in this book are very relatable (race, sexuality, family, financial security). I still am unsure quite honestly about what I read, but I read over 700 pages so I definitely think this book was ultimately a winner from me. You will not cry like you did in A Little Life, nor will you ever feel personally connected to the characters, but you will be hypnotized by Yanagihara's compelling storytelling. I did not expect this book to turn out the way it did, which is definitely a gripping way for anything I like to read. This book will have a lot of lovers and haters, and I can't wait for the conversations.
Profile Image for Inside My Library Mind.
639 reviews125 followers
January 17, 2022
Just to get this out of the way, A Little Life is possibly my favorite book of all time (it’s hard to say because I am physically unable to reread it, but I at the very least loved it and think about it to this day) and I think that drawing comparisons between it and Yanagihara’s new “novel” is natural. It also greatly colored my expectations of this book, which were incredibly high. So while some might argue that it’s unfair to make that comparison, you have to understand that I simply could not care less.

Calling this a novel is a stretch and calling it ingeniously joined is deranged

As is pointed out in the blurb, this is supposedly a novel in three sections, but it truly isn’t. These are two novellas and a full-length novel that truly do not make a cohesive whole. So while this is probably completely on the marketing, we will nonetheless blame it on the novel and Yanagihara herself because life is often unfair like that. The blurb states that “these three sections are joined in an enthralling and ingenious symphony“, and I just would like for whoever wrote that part of the blurb to make a public statement to explain to us what exactly is enthralling and ingenious in making no ACTUAL connections between these three parts BESIDE using the same names for people. You could argue that there are THEMATIC ties between these parts, but there could be thematic ties between any two novels, which doesn’t make them a whole by any means. The thematic tie is that rich people deserve no rights and also that there is no actual paradise i.e. happiness, meaning, fulfillment to be achieved no matter how we try to do it. As a whole, I don’t think this works, and on their own I think these stories are incredibly dull and unimaginative. I promise you that Suzanne Collins could have written To Paradise, but Yanagihara could have NEVER written Hunger Games, meaning she wrote a ya-dystopian-styled story and it was just not good. Even more, that last part also has two separate (but actually connected at least) storylines, and it’s as if Yanagihara just could not choose what story she wanted to tell, and then she wanted to tell them all, which inevitably lead to neither of them being particularly good.

From Insular to F for Effort in Expansive

A Little Life was so very contained in the way it was told. While I loved that story, it was so hyper-focused on characters and their relationships, so completely insular that it was entirely unbothered by context, by culture or anything on the more macro narrative level. In To Paradise, Yanagihara tries to do the opposite and in my honest opinion just fails on every level. First of all, I found the first part set in an alternate post-civil war America so very weird. The society is very sexually liberal, but it’s still anti-Black and kind of classist. I guess that the idea here was to make a point how America will always be racist, no matter what, that that’s what it defaults to, but Yanagihara wasn’t very good at making that point. She never engages with that in anyway, but instead focuses on some incredibly trite story of the pauper and the prince and forbidden love. It was dull, but moreover, it was deeply frustrating that we had this specific alternate history and for what? It’s truly disquieting. Yanagihara also fell into so many cliches in her narratives, it was so bad. Like I think this is an objectively bad book. It’s not badly written but from a narrative and technical standpoint, it is just not very good. The way Yanagihara tackles class is also incredibly superficial and also borders on a cliche. Like listen to “I am a Girl Like You“ from the hit movie Barbie: The Princess and the Pauper, it’s more compelling. Finally, we have to talk about the last part, with its dystopian totalitarian society that makes NO SENSE. It’s a totalitarian pandemic-ridden world, with quarantine centers that people are forced to go to when they are sick, there are food rations, it’s extremely hot and there’s no water. And all of that is plausible, but then there are absolutely insane parts, like needing clearance to read mystery novels or something like that and WHY. EXACTLY WHY WOULD THAT HAPPEN. Nonsense. And again, Yanagihara just did nothing with it. There wasn’t anything interesting being said, or explored, and even the setup was just so predictable and seen a thousand times before (and done better a thousand times before). The characters having the same name also serves no purpose besides it being called clever in some literary interview, while it just makes you forget the person’s name. There are also little nods to the previous parts, for the same purpose, but I just found it so uninspired. This is a deeply uninspired book.

Choises Were Made, and All of them Were Wrong

The thing I hated most about this book was that the narrative choices that Yanagihara makes are so frustrating. In every single part, she specifically chooses to focus on relationships and characters that are boring, when there is so much potential in other characters she chooses to ignore. For example, in the part 1 of the second part, instead of focusing on David and Eden’s relationship, with Eden being the single most interesting character and their dynamic being the one that has the most potential, we get maybe two pages of that before going back to rich, privileged men’s problems. Again, in part 2 of the second part, instead of focusing on David’s relationship with his mother or even Edward, we get just a lot of fodder. In the final part, there are two storylines, with one being infinitely more interesting (and my favorite of the whole novel), but again, even here, there was so much room and potential to explore interesting dynamics and yet literally nothing happens. All of the storylines end abruptly and in an unsatisfying way. And I do not mean there are open-ended endings, or endings that are not neatly tied, not at all. They just end and you can see that Yanagihara had no idea where the stories were supposed to go. It was so aimless, there was no driving force behind them. Instead she overwrites, and delivers a deeply frustrating book that is over 700 pages of just plain dullness and bad choices.

Emotional Genius It Is Not

Calling this a work of emotional genius is so unhinged to me. You can call A Little Life emotionally manipulative, but it’s hard to argue that it is not emotional and that she does not construct great characters. The characters in To Paradise are mostly dull, with some of them being even nonsensical. I cannot say that they are one-dimensional, not really, but they feel like characters you have read about a thousand times before, but somehow less. Less engaging, less emotive, less interesting. This book just never made any emotional impact. Every single story is from a privileged point of view, even when Yanagihara tries to not make it so, but there’s no actual engagement with that privilege. And the relationships that are being explored are rarely done well, overfocusing on minute, irrelevant details instead of the actual dynamic. And there are moments when the relationship tension gets really interesting, and there are great nuggets in it, but it never goes anywhere beyond brief moments of potential greatness amidst the incredibly trite and superficial. And frankly, stupid. Plain and simple, and I am truly sorry to say, I found a lot of this novel to be stupid.

To Sum Up
Truly elated that I have finished this finally because I hated it, and also surprised the lenghts I am willing to go to just to be able to participate in the discourse. I would not recommend this unless you hate good books. The one star is for me because I finished it.

Note: the audiobook was great tho, like it saved me from dnf-ing and skimming. Thank you to Libro.fm for providing it.

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Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,035 reviews570 followers
October 9, 2022
The publication of Yanagihara’s follow-up to her uncompromising but magnificent tome A Little Life was always going to be a significant event. So impactful was her last novel on me that I consider it one of the finest books I’ve ever read. So, could her new book deliver a similar sized punch?

It’s another monster, at over seven hundred pages, and is broken up into three main sections (well, in reality four as book 2 is really two stories set in the same timeframe). Book 1 takes place in the very late 19th Century and the other sections are each set a century further on in time. I kept looking for linkages between the stories but in truth these seem tenuous: a house in Greenwich Village features in all of them and many of the character names are repeated in each tale, but as we travel through time it seems that this is about as far it goes. We seem destined to move on to a new world with its own distinct history as we progress through this book.

In the first section we are introduced to a rich businessman and his grandson, to whom it is hoped his business empire will in time pass. It’s clear that same sex marriage is commonplace (though discrimination between races does exist) and indeed throughout this whole book most of the characters are married and gay. The grandfather is attempting to broker an arranged marriage for his grandson but in the meantime the younger man begins an affair with a poor music teacher.

The second section follows the fate of a young paralegal working for a large law firm in New York. The Aids pandemic is in full flow and a group of friends are saying goodbye to a member of their group who is dying of ‘boring old’ cancer. And in a separate strand we meet the ailing father of the paralegal who is a descendent of the Hawaiian royal family.

Section three is by far the largest, taking up half of the whole novel. In a dystopian New York, overrun by an ongoing series of ever worsening pandemics, we follow the fate of a number of characters as they battle to survive in what has become a harsh totalitarian state. Anyone familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will identify with the differing factors motivating the various protagonists, though it seems that all are ultimately headed for the bottom tier.

Where the author truly shines is in her descriptions of the full range of emotions felt by her cast. Their struggles are beautifully captured as each of her lead characters faces up to their respective demons. It can feel grim at times, but such is the power of her writing - her flawlessly constructed sentences, her acute ability to observe just the right details - that I found myself completely absorbed by this book for hours at a time. And on top of this she proves up to the task of weaving these elements into a powerful series of narratives. The only section I found wanting is that featuring the Hawaiian royal descendent, which I confess I had to force myself to battle through – to me this fairly short section just felt disconnected from the rest.

Yanagihara interestingly stands history on its head: we start with a progressive view of sexuality and partnerships and end with a repressive stance on the same. I was also struck by the way that each of her lead characters feels that they don’t quite fit in, that they don’t belong in this place they inhabit. Inadequacy, lack of confidence and loneliness is a package that is much repeated. There is much here to reflect on, snippets that stopped me and made me think. I observed this in her last book too, where I absorbed messages about how we can all wring a little more value out of our interactions with others by soaking up and reflecting on what we see and experience. Her writing prompts me to reflect on my own life and of those close to me.

Though I failed to connect the dots sufficiently to spot any identifiable flow through the whole book, in the main I did enjoy each element as a stand-alone piece. But what conclusions did I draw, particularly given the book’s title? I’ll need to reflect on this further but as a first stab a couple of things stand out for me:

1. As a comment on America – if the author desires it to be such – it seems to suggest a view that the country is in danger of failing to create the utopia the country’s founders set out to achieve, and that a that a mixture of political and social irresponsibility is to blame.

2. For each of us Paradise inevitably looks quite different - we all have our own needs, wants and ambitions – so it follows that our paths will look very different too. But can we each (can any of us) summon the confidence and the desire, and also have the luck, to give us a decent opportunity to reach that place?

This book is a puzzle, one I don’t claim to have in any way resolved. But I think most readers will feel the same after working their way through its many pages. I believe this is a great piece of writing, but maybe it’s a little too long and a just little too perplexing. I look forward to reading the thoughts and theories put forward by others – maybe it’ll help me reach a higher level of understanding, but then again perhaps this is one of those books it’s just going to be impossible to pin down.

My thanks to Pan Macmillan, Picador for supplying a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for a honest review.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,586 reviews1,987 followers
September 28, 2021
A big ambitious novel about family rifts, love with and without passion, inheritances, and Hawai'i. Told in three parts that take place in three different times (early 1900's, 1990's, and then from 2050's through 2090's) and possibly in three totally different universes, with recurring character names and themes, there are shades of CLOUD ATLAS. But this isn't a puzzle, at its heart it is three stories of connecting and failing to connect with the ones you love and the ones you don't quite love enough.

I have had more interest in my reading of this than any other galley I've read in ages, so let me get right to one very important piece of reader service: this is not A LITTLE LIFE. You shouldn't expect it to be, really. Yanagihara's previous novel, THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES is nothing like A LITTLE LIFE and TO PARADISE is nothing like either of them. There are some recurring elements in her work (a particular interest in relationships between gay men, in nontraditional family structures, and here we get a lot of scientific research like we did in her first novel) but this is not a trauma fest, it is not about abuse, and I don't think it's even a tearjerker. So if you are looking for a repeat of that experience, this is not the place to go. And that is fine. Yanagihara gets to write what she wants, and she's certainly written something interesting. Actually this will be the easiest of the three to recommend since the previous two have some really awful plot elements around child abuse that meant I could never wholeheartedly recommend them to a wide variety of readers.

I also want to note that if you are a reader who likes to fully understand the world your characters live in and wants all their plot lines fully resolved, you are going to have a tough time with this one. In the first story I never had a full grasp on the geography and politics of the time, but you don't really need it. In the third story you get a lot more detail but it's given slowly, and through an epistolary device. (I do have to say that while there are many things I loved about this book, the epistolary element was not one of them, it felt more contrived than the other pieces of the book.) You are never going to get a whole lot of detail about how these three stories are connected. You are going to have to be okay with ambiguities to have a good experience with this book.

This is almost three separate novels, really. And I have to admit that it's impressive that I enjoyed all three of them. Though I think the first may be my favorite. It's a gay Wharton-esque look at David, who comes from a very wealthy and prestigious family run by his grandfather. He entertains a new suitor, Charles, an older man and a widower, who is new money but stable. He also becomes smitten with Edward, who shares his passions and interests, except that he's penniless. In the second novel we follow two other Davids, a father and a son, from a family with royal blood in Hawai'i. The son is living in New York with his boyfriend Charles, an older and much more well off man. David the son is somewhat aimless but he is starting to realize that maybe what he gets from Charles isn't all that he wants. David the father is in an institution with a serious illness, his section told as a monologue, is spoken as if to his son, reflecting on the ways he didn't live up to his duties as a father. And finally, in the third section, we follow another grandparent Charles and his granddaughter Charlie, set in the future in a world where several successive pandemics and climate change have their New York almost unrecognizable.

Other character names recur--so many Nathaniels and Peters and Edens--as does a house in Washington Square. Many characters are Hawaiian (Hawaiian independence and activism around it are a major element) and most characters are gay. In this novel there are more gay marriages than straight ones, which I don't know that I've ever encountered in any other book. And yet, as much as there are similarities, there are also differences. Characters push back against their family legacies, but there is a drastic difference between a legacy of vast wealth and power our first David has compared to the Hawaiian David's legacy that has dwindled to almost nothing when the United States annexed Hawai'i as a state. (David is the only white protagonist, the others are all of at least some Hawai'ian, or other AAPI descent.) The more I think about it, the more recurrences I find, and yet the stories are all very different, both in the prose, in the structure, and in the characters themselves.

I enjoyed this book very much, and yet I did find myself wondering at the end what I was meant to take away from it. This is certainly something Yanagihara could anticipate given the way she's chosen to end each of the three sections. There are unanswered questions, there are things we want to know that we don't get to find out. It's so purposeful that I want to ask her what the purpose is.

I do not undertake a 700+ page book lightly, it's the longest book I've read in recent memory. And it did take me almost two weeks to read it. But I was always happy to sit down to it, I was able to be immersed in the characters and each separate story. I am still ready to read anything Yanagihara writes.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,089 reviews30.1k followers
February 23, 2022
Thank you, Doubleday, for the gifted book.

This is a complex read, an acquired taste, thoughtful, thought-provoking, nuanced, and outside the box, outside of mainstream in a good way.

Told in three timelines, the 1890s, the 1990s, and the 2090s during a pandemic; each time period feels like both past, present, and future, all mixed in one. The complexity is immense, and I don’t think I have enough characters here to describe it.

This book is very long, yes. It’s comprised of three complete “books”/stories that could stand on their own with only loose connections to one another; mainly in their themes and in character names. The first book was my favorite, followed closely by book two. Book three was my least favorite because some of it went over my head as hard as I tried to ponder what was happening. Because it was a buddy read, I kept going and flexed my reader flexibility muscles.

As I wrap up my reading journey with this bold novel, I am mostly left with its messages. It’s a carefully drawn out commentary on our world; past, present, and future. A somber journey of discovery in the hands of the right reader.

Thank you for the lovely buddy read and discussion, @bibliobeth. 😍

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
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