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Book review: To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

Oh no, I just realised haven’t reviewed To Paradise yet, about two months after reading it. This is going to be a tough one.

How do you sum up a book so broad in scope, and wordcount?

To Paradise is a massive book that depicts many landscapes, eras and situations.

One is a dystopian future where the world is so hot that special suits must be worn to walk the streets of New York, and where pandemics arise one after another. Here, a woman who suffered from a terrible virus lives with the consequences while also navigating the reality of a ravaged earth.

Then there is the world of the past where heterosexual and homosexual couples lived in true equality, yet class and racial divisions ran deep. This storyline explores the legacy of the loss of Hawaiian autonomy and culture and overthrowing of its royalty.

The third landscape is one in which an AIDS-like illness is decimating a friendship group, and centres on an unequal relationship between a Hawaiian and his wealthy partner.

For a long time (almost the entirety of the novel) these times and places sit apart, with few links between the vastly different times and situations.

While each is engrossing in its own right, this does make the book a little confusing. Each chapter switch made me have to readjust my thinking to a whole new world, and I felt that meant the book wasn’t as affecting as Yanagihara’s extraordinary novel, A Little Life.

I felt that To Paradise was more intent on making a point, without the same richness, as A Little Life, and I didn’t feel overly moved by any of the stories.

It is true that I felt fearful of the premonition of a frightening future in the dystopian section of the novel, and I enjoyed learning about the Hawaiian perspective on mainland USA, and some of the tensions that exist that I knew little about.

There is no doubt that this is a clever novel of surprising ideas. However, to read as many words is a real investment, and I’m not sure that I would do it again.

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