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To Paradise - BOOK REVIEW


''To Paradise'' by novelist Hanya Yanagihara. Her 2015 novel, ''A Little Life'', dealt with the challenges of disability and trauma and became a bestseller. Here's Maureen's review of ''To Paradise''. Hanya Yanagihara's new novel, ''To Paradise'', is deliberately difficult. It weighs in at just over 700 pages and breaks into three distinct books, which read like semi-autonomous novels in their own right. The same names and situations resurface every 100 years, and other random coincidences abound. Perhaps that's why, when reading ''To Paradise'', I couldn't help but think of the coincidence that it's being published in the centenary year of another deliberately difficult novel, James Joyce & ''Ulysses''. ''Ulysses'' also weighs in at just over 700 pages and is also packed with repetitions, scenes where characters unknowingly repeat incidents from ''The Odyssey''.

Book I of ''To Paradise'' is the most reader-friendly and contains some of the novel's most gorgeous language. It's set in 1893 in New York which belongs to an independent nation called the Free States. The Free States have legalized gay marriage and given full rights to women but keep out Black and Indigenous people. The way communities and nations, even allegedly progressive ones, define themselves by whom they exclude is a theme Yanagihara touches on frequently.

The second book of  ''To Paradise'' takes place 100 years later in 1993, partly in that same townhouse in Greenwich Village. The David of this story is a cash- strapped, young Hawaiian man living with a debonair, older lover named Charles.

The AIDS epidemic imbues this section with a twilit mood. Unfortunately, Book II drifts into a dense ending monologue narrated by David's father, who belongs to the Hawaiian royal family.

The final and longest book of ''To Paradise'' drags us deep into dystopia. New York, in 2093, has been ravaged by climate change and mutating deadly viruses.

That Washington Square townhouse is now chopped into apartments. Among the characters we meet here are two reincarnations of the Charles character -  Charles who's a renowned virologist and his granddaughter, Charlie, who's emotionally and physically compromised. It's her grandfather's effort to save her from the ruthlessness of an authoritarian government that propels this narrative after a sluggish start.

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