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A Little Life (2015)

by Hanya Yanagihara

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,4763271,217 (4.08)1 / 286
"When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition ... Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is [their center of gravity] Jude, ... by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome--but that will define his life forever"--Amazon.com.… (more)
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 Orange January/July: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara5 unread / 5vwinsloe, March 2017

» See also 286 mentions

English (299)  Dutch (11)  German (3)  Spanish (3)  Italian (2)  Catalan (2)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  Danish (1)  Piratical (1)  All languages (324)
Showing 1-5 of 299 (next | show all)
While it’s not unusual for a book to make me cry, it is a little out of the norm for me to burst into tears when talking about a book—which is exactly what happened when I tried to explain this maudlin plot to my husband. This book should come with a warning: it’s melancholic and hard to read in places—everything horrible in a piteous life happens here. It’s Shakespearean tragic. But, it’s also one of the most beautiful stories of friendship I’ve ever read: real and reverent, forgiving and sacrificial, loyal and loving.

This is a decades-long, panoramic friendship saga of four college friends: JB, an indulgent, insecure, self-involved but, also, lovable artist; Willem, a charming, good-looking actor who’s fiercely protective and loyal; Malcolm, an architect who craves propriety and struggles with guilt and indecision; and Jude, an intensely private and serious litigator with an obscure, traumatic past. The story follows these friends passionately pursuing their dreams after college in NYC with the peaks and valleys of their friendship as the focal point of this narrative. While they see themselves as a unit, it’s really Jude at the center of it all, as the sun they all orbit around. However, Jude sees himself only as “an extravagant collection of problems,” even though everyone around him, everyone who gets pulled in as if by centripetal force, deeply desires to help him move past the extreme trauma of a childhood that has scarred him both physically and emotionally (392).

In this story of friendship and, ultimately, of love, it asks the question of whether or not love is enough to save someone—whether or not that person thinks they’re worthy of being saved. If my previous warnings of trauma don’t scare you off, I highly recommend this lit-fic read. Other than being a little too long and having too many terrible things happen to these characters—some more than others, some of Job-like proportions, moving it from reality to something more mythic, too incredulous to believe—it really is a beautiful story of friendship and love that’s worth all 720 pages, a 4.5 star read. ( )
  lizallenknapp | Apr 20, 2024 |
I cannot remember ever shedding a tear over a novel before, but this one made me do it, more than once even. An astonishing accomplishment, Ms. Yanagihara, who has said in interviews:

"This book adheres to many of the conventions of the classic Western fairy tale: there’s a child in distress, who’s made to face challenges on his own. The era is suggested rather than named. There are no conventional parental figures, in particular mother figures. (Like many fairy tales, I hope this book is defined as much by its absences as its presences.) And yet, unlike a fairy tale, this book concerns itself more with the characters’ emotional response to these challenges and events than the circumstances themselves; I tried to meld the psychological specificity of a naturalistic contemporary novel with the suspended-time quality of a fable. Part of fairy tales’ lasting power is attributable to the fact that they never address their characters’ inner lives (a relatively modern literary concept, that); the particulars of the plot are generally far more important than the characters themselves. With A Little Life, I tried to do the opposite."

"I will just say that there is, in a significant number of these stories [fairy tales]–across cultures, across countries–a stubborn lack of redemption. Sometimes the good child is rewarded, and the bad witch punished, but just as often, they’re not: or what must be endured by the hero or heroine is so terrible, so grotesque, that happiness, usually in the form of marriage or a reunion, seems almost meaningless, an unsatisfying answer to outlandish feats of survival."

"I wanted there to be something too much about the violence in the book, but I also wanted there to be an exaggeration of everything, an exaggeration of love, of empathy, of pity, of horror. I wanted everything turned up a little too high."

"I do think that men, almost uniformly, no matter their race or cultural affiliations or religion or sexuality, are equipped with a far more limited emotional toolbox. Not endemically, perhaps – but there’s no society that I know of that encourages men to put words to the sort of feelings – much less encourages their expression of those feelings – that women get to take for granted. Maybe this is changing with younger men, but I sometimes listen to my male friends talk, and can understand that what they’re trying to communicate is fear, or shame, or vulnerability–even as I find it striking that they’re not even able to name those emotions, never mind discuss their specificities; they talk in contours, but not in depth... As a writer, it’s a great gift–and an interesting challenge–to write about a group of people who are fundamentally limited in this way (and who happen to be half the world’s population)."

"One of the things I wanted to do with this book is create a character who never gets better. And, relatedly, to explore this idea that there is a level of trauma from which a person simply can’t recover. I do believe that really, we can sustain only a finite amount of suffering. That amount varies from person to person and is different, sometimes wildly so, in nature; what might destroy one person may not another. So much of this book is about Jude’s hopefulness, his attempt to heal himself, and I hope that the narrative’s momentum and suspense comes from the reader’s growing recognition — and Jude’s — that he’s too damaged to ever truly be repaired, and that there’s a single inevitable ending for him." ( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
I think I would have loved this book if it were shorter. I'm not adverse to long books (in fact, I've declared 2024 the YOBB, or Year of Big Books in an attempt to get some weightier reads off my shelves). This book could have been great, but it went on so long I got bored and/or frustrated. I became so sick of Jude's and Willem's relationship where they constantly seemed to be apologizing for failing to understand the other. I started to think that Jude's backstory had just too many traumatic events and evil people in it. I even started to wonder what all the other characters saw in Jude anyway.

Given the strong characters and heart-wrenching plot, I shouldn't have had these thoughts. But things dragged on. I still liked it, but didn't find it great. ( )
  LynnB | Feb 8, 2024 |
The characters in this moving book will stay with me for a long time, not just Jude St. Francis, but those in his orbit as well: Willem Ragnarsson, Jean Batpiste “JB” Marion, Malcolm Irvine, Harold Stein, Julia Altman, Andy, Richard. While we know immediately this is no ordinary coming of age story, the general framework is just that. For several decades, we follow the lives of four gifted young men who met in college in Boston, went to separate grad schools, and all wound up in New York City as they each achieve success in their careers. But, at the center, we come to know Jude most—the one who those who love him know so little about. It is not an easy book, peeling away the layers of horrifying traumas Jude endured as a child. Heart-wrenching, devastating, outrageous, disturbing, but deftly and beautifully written. I thought it dragged a bit in the last quarter of the book (711 pages) and sometimes the metaphors missed the mark, but overall, unflinchingly powerful. ( )
  bschweiger | Feb 4, 2024 |
Book club choice. Epic read. Thoughtful and harrowing. 4 friends meet at college aged about 17. Main character is Jude, whose life has been a nightmare of abuse from birth. As an adult he is a very successful lawyer, but ruined by having been told he is worthless through childhood. Some things do go well for him in adult life, most importantly his relationship with Willem, but the end is tragedy. I had hoped for a happy ending, but this is more authentic given his history. A difficult emotional rollercoaster of a read. ( )
  simbaandjessie | Jan 12, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 299 (next | show all)
I'm still talking about A Little Life. It's deeply upsetting, but I think it's a wonderfull story in the end.
added by Sylak | editStylist [Issue 338], Paula Hawkins (Oct 12, 2016)
 
Hanya Yanagihara schrijft in Een klein leven duidelijk voor haar lezer, ze manipuleert je met perfect getimede overgangen: van feel good naar feel bad en terug. Alle personages hebben maar één eigenschap, het zijn sjablonen. Ergerlijk. En toch weet het boek iets te raken.
 
In the end, her novel is little more than a machine designed to produce negative emotions for the reader to wallow in—unsurprisingly, the very emotions that, in her Kirkus Reviews interview, she listed as the ones she was interested in, the ones she felt men were incapable of expressing: fear, shame, vulnerability. Both the tediousness of A Little Life and, you imagine, the guilty pleasures it holds for some readers are those of a teenaged rap session, that adolescent social ritual par excellence, in which the same crises and hurts are constantly rehearsed.
 
Je kunt je afvragen waarom de mensen rond Jude St. Francis zoveel kunnen houden van iemand die hen steeds weer door de vingers glipt, die zijn geschiedenis verborgen houdt en die een bron is van zorgen en frustraties. Tot je merkt dat je zelf die liefde bent gaan voelen, inclusief de angst die erbij hoort. Het verraadt dat in A Little Life iets wezenlijks wordt aangeraakt.
added by Jozefus | editNRC Handelsblad, Auke Hulst (Sep 14, 2015)
 
Yanagihara’s success in creating a deeply afflicted protagonist is offset by placing him in a world so unrealized it almost seems allegorical, with characters so flatly drawn they seem more representative of people than the actual thing. This leaves the reader, at the end, wondering if she has been foolish for taking seriously something that was merely a contrivance all along.
added by ozzer | editNew York Times, Carol Anshaw (Mar 30, 2015)
 

» Add other authors (44 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yanagihara, Hanyaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Briasco, LucaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hujar, PeterCover photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kessler, TorbenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kleiner, Stephan JohannÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pouwels, KittyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruitenberg, JosephineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schroderus, ArtoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Webb, CardonCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyman, OliverNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Jared Hohlt
in friendship; with love
First words
The eleventh apartment had only one closet, but it did have a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony, from which he could see a man sitting across the way, outdoors in only a T-shirt and shorts even though it was October, smoking.
Quotations
"I know you're tired," Brother Luke had said. "It's normal; you're growing. It's tiring work, growing. And I know you work hard. But Jude, when you're with your clients, you have to show a little life; they're paying to be with you, you know – you have to show them you're enjoying it."

De verwijzing naar de titel van het boek is in de Nederlandse vertaling verdwenen:

'Ik weet dat je moe bent,' had broeder Luke gezegd. 'Dat is normaal; je bent in de groei. Groeien is een vermoeiende klus. En ik weet dat je hard werkt. Maar Jude, als je met je klanten bent, moet je wel een beetje energiek zijn; ze betalen ervoor om met je naar bed te gaan, weet je… Je moet ze laten zien dat je het fijn vindt.'
The trick of friendship, I think, is to find people better than you are - not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving - and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad or good it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.
He would have turned down Rhode's invitation; he would have kept living his little life; he would have never known the difference.
If you love home — and even if you don't — there is nothing quite as cozy, as comfortable, as delightful, as that first week back. That week, even the things that would irritate you — the alarm waahing from some car at three in the morning; the pigeons who come to clutter and click on the windowsill behind your bed when you're trying to sleep in — seem instead reminders of your own permanence, of how life, your life, will always graciously allow you to step back inside it, no matter how far you have gone away from it or how long you have left it.
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"When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition ... Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is [their center of gravity] Jude, ... by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome--but that will define his life forever"--Amazon.com.

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