To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara – Review

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara
Series: N/A
Publisher: Doubleday
Published January 11th 2022
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Adult, LGBTQ+
Pages: 720
Format: Hardback
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon

From the author of the classic A Little Life, a bold, brilliant novel spanning three centuries and three different versions of the American experiment, about lovers, family, loss and the elusive promise of utopia.

In an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems). The fragile young scion of a distinguished family resists betrothal to a worthy suitor, drawn to a charming music teacher of no means. In a 1993 Manhattan besieged by the AIDS epidemic, a young Hawaiian man lives with his much older, wealthier partner, hiding his troubled childhood and the fate of his father. And in 2093, in a world riven by plagues and governed by totalitarian rule, a powerful scientist’s damaged granddaughter tries to navigate life without him—and solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearances.

These three sections are joined in an enthralling and ingenious symphony, as recurring notes and themes deepen and enrich one another: A townhouse in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village; illness, and treatments that come at a terrible cost; wealth and squalor; the weak and the strong; race; the definition of family, and of nationhood; the dangerous righteousness of the powerful, and of revolutionaries; the longing to find a place in an earthly paradise, and the gradual realization that it can’t exist. What unites not just the characters, but these Americas, are their reckonings with the qualities that make us human: Fear. Love. Shame. Need. Loneliness.

To Paradise is a fin de siècle novel of marvellous literary effect, but above all it is a work of emotional genius. The great power of this remarkable novel is driven by Yanagihara’s understanding of the aching desire to protect those we love – partners, lovers, children, friends, family and even our fellow citizens – and the pain that ensues when we cannot.

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This book is divided in three parts, between past and future and set in an America different from the one known.

Part One: We have in 1893 New York, one David Bingham. He is set up for an arranged marriage by his grandfather – with whom he lives – to a wealthy widower named Charles Griffith. But while navigating his youth he falls in love with his penniless music teacher instead. Will he do the right thing for his family’s sake or will he go all in on love?

The second part is set in 1990s New York. In an alternate universe, David is a Hawaiian man, with a sick father, having an affair with Charles, a senior partner to his junior paralegal and 30 years older than himself.

The third part has a dystopian pandemic setting set in the 2090s. The book is divided in parts set in present and past (max 50 years before). We have two main characters – Charlie Griffith and David – Charlie’s grandfather. In this setting, homosexuality is no longer encouraged and we also get to see pandemic side effects like sterility.

It feels like I read 3 whole novels, that’s how complete each of the parts feel. They are dense yet interesting and full of power and important thoughts.

The first part talks about America not being for negros, that people from the colonies shouldn’t be part of the states. And how different life is seen from two different parts of society, one with money and power and one penniless living on the day-by-day. While all that evolves in the story, it’s also a story of love, or how one’s heart chooses it without you. David sees himself between two worlds, and not being able to choose. From one pov, his heart is set on someone that shouldn’t be for him, from the other, there’s stability and expectations. Who he is and who he should become, it’s overall a coming of age type of story. Freedom, happiness and following the steps that came before him or take caution to the wind and go for who he loves.

This first part completely absorbed me, I was super engaged in David’s life. “To live a life in color, a life in love”. Love it. I have far too many thoughts on this, and the story just flies by and it’s incredibly gripping and engaging. The writing is goals.

The second part also talks illness and the side effects of it, death, hope and euthanasia – although it wasn’t as emotional as I thought it could have been. I liked the first part better than this one, but I still felt interested in it. It talks about friendship, loyalty and love. It just could have been shorter, it didn’t grip me at all, and it made me take far too long to read this book due to it.

The third part is quite chunky, being 50% of the whole book, so this has a lot more to it, than at first glance. Charlie as an adult is a very plain and simple character and we see how she deals with all the evolvement her family had in the pandemics. The first part continues to be my favourite followed by this one. This was quite interesting and being set during pandemics after pandemics, the setting feels all too real. I generally don’t like when it keeps changing from past to present but I would make an exception for this one. It just made it even more impactful. I really enjoyed this story, especially Charlie and how much I could connect with her. She is socially awkward, focused on work and rarely straining from her normal daily life, until that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. The thing she wanted the most, she couldn’t get – love. It was heartbreaking and sad to read. This third part really made me feel like it could actually exist at some point, which is sad and upsetting.

I have yet to read A Little Life, and I keep putting it off because I keep hearing how everyone cries. But I’m definitely a fan of the writing! It’s so good! And I love how real the characters feel.

TW: racism, mentions of mania, depression, verbal abuse, special needs, sterility, …

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What did you think of it? Have you read it? Let’s discuss it in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara – Review

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