A good book should entertain, yet challenge your thinking in order to broaden your scope. A good book is like a good trip, really, where the reader (traveller) comes away more worldly, more open, more aware.
Hanya Yanagihara’s The People In The Trees is a beautiful example of what a good book is. The basis of the story is one that echoes the classic science fiction from the 50s-70s that I so love – on exploration, hope, love, the drive of the human spirit. On reading the opening, it put me in the same place as The Island of Dr Moreau, though it quickly built itself into something much much more.
Yanagihara shows us – quite effortlessly in this book – that we are all affected by our past, by our every experience. We may at some extremely early point in our lives, have begun with tabula rasa, but even the most insignificant (or so we think) of experiences, which we may remember or not, etches a mark into our personal slates that would, in time, be completely covered and re-etched over and over again.
What we learn as being right or wrong, true or false, good or bad, are all descriptors and rules that the society surrounding us implicates us in. We do not have a choice in the matter, other than that we see it for what it is, and realise that our actions, though they may be driven by our past events, are still controlled by us. And sometimes, these actions may not be acceptable by our loved ones, let alone, society.
The People In The Trees is definitely not for every reader. Especially if you’re not a realist, or unprepared to accept that humanity is made up of a variety of colours and shades, and not just black or white. If you want your own principles questioned, your beliefs reconsidered, then let Yanagihara take you on a little journey back in time, to a fictional place, and an astounding discovery, with a history that could easily apply to any part of the world we live in today.
Further recommendation: Do read Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow if you enjoyed this book.