2014 Recommended books

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigahara

The People in the Trees

Five words from the blurb: anthropologist, tribe, discovery, miraculous, terrible

I bought a copy of this book when Steph, one of my favourite bloggers, raved about it. It’s been sat on my shelf for ages, but I finally got around to reading it and found it was well worth the wait. The People in the Trees is the perfect blend of science, moral dilemma and mystery – all wrapped up in a clever structure. You can click here for the history blog of tree.

The book begins with Norton, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, being arrested for paedophillia. The rest of the book travels back in time, explaining what happened prior to his arrest. It shows how Norton came to fame studying a tribe from a remote Micronesian island. These people claimed to become immortal after eating a rare turtle and as Norton researched their society he made a break-through discovery. The subsequent media frenzy is heartbreaking to read and perfectly captures many of the problems with our society today.

Norton was a fantastic character. He was deeply flawed, but I found myself empathising with him – and this was troubling on many occasions. The book managed to hold my attention throughout, despite the fact that the majority of the plot was revealed within the first few pages. I also loved the way it questioned our way of life, making me re-think several of my own beliefs.

All ethics and morals are culturally relative. And Esme’s reaction taught me that while cultural relativism is an easy concept to process intellectually, it is not, for many, an easy one to remember.

The People of the Trees is an anthropological adventure and it felt completely plausible – an impressive feat for such an unlikely story. Much of the book reminded me of The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, as they blend science and fiction in a similarly compelling way. The writing styles shared so many aspects that I wouldn’t have been surprised if you told me both books were written by the same author. I’m sure that anyone who enjoyed one would appreciate the other.

The disturbing themes mean that this book isn’t suitable for everyone, but if you’re intrigued by the darker side of human nature The People of the Trees is a must-read.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

This is one of those rare books that truly defies any attempt to classify it. Jenny Blenk

So my beef with The People in the Trees isn’t with the disgusting revelations per se but that they seemed so disjointed with the rest of the book; therefore, seeming to have no place in it. 1776 Books

I found the book and Perina fascinating and disturbing. Tia’s Book Musings




21 replies on “The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigahara”

Isn’t it wonderful? I’ll be very curious to hear what you think of her sophomore novel, A Little Life — everyone seems to love it? And only a very few people had my reaction to it, which was overwhelmingly negative.

I’m interested in the comparison to The Signature of All Things! I recently bought a nice copy of that at a used-book sale, and I’ve been a bit daunted to read it because it’s so long. But this makes me extra into it.

Jenny, A Little Life isn’t out in the UK until August, but I am looking forward to trying it. University novels aren’t my favourite thing so I could have the same reaction as you, but hopefully the writing will win through. I’ll let you know later in the year!

I hope you decide to give The Signature of All Things a try. I think you’ll love it. *fingers crossed*

Thanks for introducing me to Steph and Tony’s blog. I never would have stumbled across it otherwise. And I have to read this book. It’s been nagging me since it came out. Maybe i should just go buy it today instead of waiting on a library version.

Tanya, Unfortunately Steph and Tony don’t blog about books as often as they used to, but you should still find a wealth of interesting information on their blog.

I waited a while for my library to get hold of this book – it didn’t happen 🙁 A couple of years on they still don’t have a copy so I suggest buying a copy. It’s well worth the money!

I love the understatement of your “he’s deeply flawed, but I empathized with him, and this is deeply troubling”! Part of the fun of the book is how complicit you get, I think.
I’m one of the ones who loved the second novel by this author, A Little Life. It seems to me important to remember that Yanigahara likes the kind of irony where you mean one thing but you say another, not necessarily the opposite.

Jeanne, I love Yanigahara’s style! The unsettling feeling created is outstanding and I don’t know many other authors able to play with my preconceptions so well. I can’t wait to find out what I think of A Little Life!

I’m so glad that you enjoyed this one so much, Jackie! Apparently it was a very divisive book (some people thought it was boring…?!?), but I loved it from start to finish. Definitely pick up here newest book when it is released in the UK; if anything it might be better than this one!

Steph, It is weird that some people found it boring. I guess it is quite slow and rich in description, but I loved the atmosphere created and was never bored – there is so much to think about!

I’m so pleased I’ve brought it back to your attention! This book definitely shouldn’t be forgotten! I hope you both decide to pick it up soon and enjoy it as much as I did!

Jackie, I likened to the audio earlier in the month and liked it –not as much as A Little Life, but still very different and descriptive. (No review yet)

There has been a lot said about this book – all good stuff, so I am looking forward to reading it. For some reason, it makes me think more of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, but this is just from the premise.

Athira, Yes, on the surface the two books sound similar, but they are very different in the end! People in the Trees has an emotional power not present in Patchett’s book. It is also a lot more surprising, giving the reader an uncomfortable feeling that is quite rare to discover. I hope you decide to give it a try.

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