Review: To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

Hanya Yanagihara returns post “A Little Life” with a genre-hybridising, sprawling and ambitious epic, whose characters have the same sense of interiority as JB, Willem, Malcolm and Jude, but whose canvas is bigger and more operatic. It’s an impressive novel, extraordinarily constructed, that rewards assiduous readers, or those prepared to go back and properly appreciate the continuity between its three narrative strands, which are set in 1893, 1993, and 2093 respectively.

Condensing its plot into a paragraph would be doing “To Paradise” a disservice. Suffice to say, each section occurs in a period of fabricated history, or speculative future. They are connected by geography, theme, and character names; a house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village is constant. Each tale addresses issues relating to wealth, race and family, and all involve illness; in 2093, for example, we are introduced to a pandemic-ravaged world ruled by a totalitarian government. 

You can’t help but admire Yanagihara’s storytelling audacity. This is a boldly multivalent novel, sweeping in scope and design, but whispers of what made “A Little Life” an all-time favourite remain. “To Paradise” is not as distressing as that ― the various traumas experienced by its characters aren’t as seismic, or prolonged ― but like its predecessor, it’s an unforgettable reading experience.

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