First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
In an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people live with 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 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 marvelous 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.
Yay! Another work week is in the books! The weekend is here! I hope that you are ending the week with flying colors. I hope you were able to accomplish everything that you set out to complete at the start of the week. If yes, it is time to party! To the weary and those whose patience has been stretched too thin, I hope you will utilize the weekend to rest well and recover. On top of this, I hope that everyone is doing well, physically, mentally, and spiritually. With new subvariants of the COVID 19 virus still emerging, I hope that you still practice the minimum safety protocol. Let us remain vigilant and cautious, especially when we are outside the safety of our homes. Let us beat this virus together.
The last workday of the week (except for those in the Middle East) is synonymous with a First Impression Friday update. April has effectively turned into an extension of my March reading month because I cannot find a suitable theme. As such, I have been reading the works of female writers. Just like my March reading journey, my April reading journey was brimming with interesting and insightful books. To make the experience more interesting, I have been alternating new-to-me writers and not-so-new-to-me writers. Earlier this week, I completed Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake, the review of which I am currently working on. In the past four days, I have been reading my second novel by Hanya Yanagihara, her latest work, To Paradise.
It has been nearly five years since I read A Little Life, my first novel by Yanagihara. It was a difficult read, owing to the graphic images of violence that permeated the story. Nonetheless, it was a memorable book because it touched base on humanity and on who we truly are. When I learned that she was publishing a new work this year, I was excited because of the time that has elapsed since I read A Little Life. I also highlighted the book as one that I am highly anticipating in my 2022 Books I Look Forward to List. Even though I barely had any iota of what To Paradise was about, I didn’t hesitate in obtaining a copy of the book. Giddy with so much anticipation, I immediately delved into it the moment I can.
I guess I was subconsciously expecting that the novel was about homosexual men, which was one of the chief themes in A Little Life. This is surprising considering that Yanagihara doesn’t identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, at least from what I understand. In a time rife with literary movements such as the #ownvoices movement, readers have become more critical. But then again, we as readers can bypass this as long as the writer did his or her research about the subject. As readers, we can only judge if what the author wrote was a semblance of what we have in our minds, or if the portrayal was reflective of our own experiences.
Back to the book. The story is divided into three distinct sections set in three different time periods which were separated by a century: 1893, 1993, and 2093. These are the primary periods as the story also flashes back to other time periods. The story was primarily set in New York City, with portions set in Hawaii. But this is literature and the New York City and Hawaii that Yanagihara wrote of are not the New York City and Hawaii that we know of. I am done with the first and second parts. I do commend Yanagihara for the bevy of subjects she has explored. Beyond homosexuality and other subjects inherently attached to it, i.e. discrimination and identity, Yanagihara grappled with race, colonialism, memory, and even visions of utopia (the book’s title is a dead giveaway).
I did enjoy the second part, especially its exploration of Hawaiian identity which, as posited by the story, got lost because of the entry of mainland Americans who took on its lands and seized the monarchy that once ruled over the island. We read of the son of a monarch who was unable to speak the Hawaiian language and whose sensibilities lean towards the American capitalists who were depicted as colonialists. We read of how a non-Hawaiian was prodding him to reclaim his identity. I also liked the first part and I can’t help but be annoyed with David Bingham and his lack of foresight although I did admit I have created different scenarios on my mind.
What I didn’t like was that the first two stories were cut short just when I was getting invested in the storylines. I don’t know. Maybe Yanagihara is going to bind these threads together in the third part. Maybe she will pull off a Cloud Atlas circular timeline. Whatever she does, I hope that the loose ends will be neatly tied up in the end. Interestingly, the third story involved a female character. This did unsettle me a bit because the relationships captured in the first two stories were between men. I actually had to do a doubletake to confirm that the narrator was a woman. The third part also incorporated an epistolary structure and I surmise that it will be the device that Yanagihara will use to tighten all loose ends. Or maybe the open-ended conclusions were deliberate.
Another facet I am lamenting is my current lack of connection with the main characters and their plights. They come across as passive, naive, and even servile. I am not a fan of passive characters. I can only assume that the cathartic release will occur towards the end of the book. I can only hope because while I like the themes and subjects woven into the book’s lush tapestry, I still have to establish a connection with the main characters. The over 300 pages that I still have to cover (it is a behemoth of a book) are enough to address the concerns I have. I am looking forward to the book’s conclusion; I hope it won’t disappoint. How about you fellow reader? What book are you taking with you this weekend? I hope you get to enjoy it. Happy Friday! As always, happy reading!