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The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara got a lot of love this year from one of my favorite Internet institutions, the Tournament of Books. That, combined with its awesome cover, landed it on my to-read list.
The book follows a research scientist (Norton Perina), who is dragged along on an anthropological expedition … and when he gets there, realizes that the people seem to have achieved immortality through consumption of an endemic turtle. The book follows what Perina does after this finding, which includes conducting some ethically questionable research and starting a large adopted family of native islanders.
Perina is a complicated character (the book opens in the near present with him being indicted for child abuse), and although the book is written from the perspective of Perina’s friend, Yanagihara is very careful to pass little judgement on Perina. Instead, the reader is left with a series of events, some that seem clearly horrible, some that seem okay but only in the narrative’s context, and some that make Perina a hero. The voice of the novel, which reminded me of the ethnographies I read back in undergrad, eventually bored me, but the narrative really propelled the book forward.