The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

Published: 2013

Genre: fiction

Length: 368 pages

Setting: U’ivu Islands in Micronesia and Stanford, 1950s to the present

Interest: It was in the new book section of my local library. I picked it up because it sounded vaguely familiar (and fulfilled a letter in my author challenge). The setting and scientific aspect of the story drew me to bring it home.

Summary: Perina Norton is a med student in the 1950s and he doesn’t really want to practice medicine. He gets the opportunity to take part in an anthropological trip, along with Tallent and Esme, to find a lost tribe in Micronesia. They find a tribe on Ivu’ivu that has been segregated from outside influences from decades. They also find the dreamers, a group of natives who are much older than any in the tribe. In fact, their bodies don’t seem to age the way everyone else’s does. Norton discovers it’s because each one of them has eaten an opa’ivu’eke (an endemic turtle). Norton takes some of the turtle home with him to conduct experiments on and he confirms the evidence provided by the dreamers in his lab. Sadly, that confirmation results in the degradation of the culture and land of the Ivu’ivuans and the extinction of the turtles. Norton continues to go back, adopting over forty children from the island almost as penance for his actions.

Final thoughts: A fascinating story told as a memoir of a scientist’s life, down to footnotes and journal references. I had to keep reminding myself it was a fiction book and not nonfiction. The story on the island of discovering the dreamers and what they meant was a curious mix of banality (everything gets routine) and hope, and then it all crashes and burns in the end. No one from that initial trip ends up with a successful life. Norton probably holds it together the longest, but at the same time I think he drops the lowest. The island is ravaged and Norton’s personal life descends into pedophilia (the very end takes a bit of a turn into “adult situations”). I do love the fact he managed to find someone to run away with and start over at the very end. Maybe this time he could be happy. I also loved how the author represented science – it’s not glamorous most of the time, but there are flashes of insight and greatness (that can easily be lost).

Title comes from: The dreamers were found wandering among the trees of the forests on Ivu’ivu.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 86/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and a Y in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (14/26)

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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