In 1950, a young doctor, Norton Perina, signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote island of Ivu'ivu in search of a rumored lost tribe. They succeed, finding not only that tribe but also a group of forest dwellers they dub "The Dreamers," who turn out to be fantastically long-lived but progressively more senile.
Perina suspects the source of their longevity is a hard-to-find turtle; unable to resist the possibility of eternal life, he kills one and smuggles some meat back to the States. He proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame, but he soon discovers that its miraculous property comes at a terrible price. As things quickly spiral out of his control, his own demons take hold, with devastating consequences.
"Driven by Yanagihara's gorgeously complete imaginary ethnography on the one hand and, on the other, by her brilliantly detestable narrator, this debut novel is compelling on every level - morally, aesthetically, and narratively." (Publishers Weekly)
"Yanagihara presents a cautionary tale about what can happen when Western arrogance meets primeval culture." (Kirkus Reviews)
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Engrossing and disturbing
Liking seems a weak word. The story vibrated, it gnawed, it struck chords of recognition and also of dismay. There was not a single part that did not engage me.
The two main narrators were exceptional. That the narrator who read Norton's part had a style not dissimilar to that of David Sedaris was appealing.
That there are disturbing parts in this book did not diminish my enthusiasm for it. To me, these parts were necessary to my understanding of both the main character and also a larger social commentary. To be be shocked would show our blindness to the sometimes misguided mindset of our own culture.
Know thyself takes a backseat to science
This was an interesting story but more so a profile of a scientist who seems to have lost track of his moral compass. Exploration and discovery trump other considerations when intruding on a newly discovered culture. When the possibility of some ostracized members of this culture having attained a physical but not mental immortality or at least a long life arises Norton, the scientist narrator, pulls out all the stops in an attempt to figure out how they’ve attained such a state. Once word gets out and the pharmaceutical companies descend on the island paradise it is reduced to combed over rubble. Norton wins the Nobel while adopting a great many of the island's waifs. How he fares as a father and why he is imprisoned for going astray conclude the book. While clearly able to apply analysis in the scientific world, Norton lacks such perspicacity when examining his own actions.
- Concerned Reader