To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

I am not quite sure how you do a book like this justice. I borrowed it as an audiobook, I didn’t think I had the stamina for 700+ pages, and that was 26+ hours of listening. I am making quilts at the moment so I can have long stretches of listening.

The book is divided into three shorter books set in the 1890s, 1990s and 2090s and it is really quite hard to make the connections between the characters because they are all called David or Charles and so they may be ancestors or may not. I choose to think that they are because of elements that are similar between them.

I can really imagine Yanagihara writing the book during lockdowns because the 2090s are not a great place to be. There are pandemics every few years and what appears to be some climate change so that permanent lockdowns are necessary in the eye of the government with people wearing whole body suits and not allowed to leave the country or even the part of the country they live in. There is not enough food and fear is rife. People are allowed housing according to their work status and the state organises marriages because so many people (parents) were killed during previous pandemics. There are children with compromised immune systems after suffering from one of the viruses but surviving and then there are others who are affected by the vaccines. It really is quite relevant to today. At one point the book actually states that nothing allows a virus to run amok more than democracy, although now we know so does communism. It would seem that Yanagihara is definitely on the side that says the cure should not be worse than the disease and in this book it is.

Some of the big themes are the loss of ways of life, and questions about what freedom means and because it spans 300 years it can question the impacts of those freedoms on people in the future. It is also about the suffering of people on a global scale and at an intimate scale in marriages through depression, abusive partners and then partners who abuse all people in ways that are not unlike the Nazis. A lot of people suffer in this book and it seems the only way out for them is to die. I am not entirely sure if I have got that message correctly from the book as it seems a little simplistic and may be some of the reasons that this is a marmite book.

I am not quite sure where the paradise is that the title refers to. Is it Hawaii where the first book is set, is it a state where gay people can be free to love who they choose, is it in family with children and the love that it engenders or is it the paradise that is death?

If she wrote another book, I would read it but this time from a book rather than as an audiobook to see if I could find more in it.

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