Book Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I inhaled this book—it consumed me. This book left me raw. exposed, alive, shattered, and…human—so extraordinarily human. It lived and grew within me for weeks afterward and transformed me into something other, hypersensitive teeming with an abundance of grit and heart and life; something graceful that made my toes curl and my humanity multiply and fragment—my compassion and empathy soar.

Yeah, it did. It really did.

Forewarning: this book is agonizing and bleak. The trauma eviscerates. Hints of contentment and optimism hide in the shadows of adversity and shine sparingly. If you are intimate with human suffering and can befriend it and grow, the recognition and understanding intensifies the experience exponentially. If you’re far too delicate to confront the discomfort—the harsh and odious anguish and ambiguities in life—then maybe you wanna take a pass and read something more convenient and pleasant? A reminder: Privilege can be such an apathetic and passive tool.

“…he wanted to be someone whom no one knew and who knew no one.”

“Fairness is for happy people, for people who have been lucky enough to have lived a life defined more by certainties than by ambiguities.”

“We don’t get the families we deserve.”

“But these were days of self-fulfillment, where settling for something that was not quite your first choice of a life seemed weak-willed and ignoble. Somewhere, surrendering to what seemed to be your fate had changed from being dignified to being a sign of your own cowardice. There were times when the pressure to achieve happiness felt almost oppressive, as if happiness were something that everyone should and could attain, and that any sort of compromise in its pursuit was somehow your fault.”

“You let things slide that your instincts told you not to, you scooted around the edges of your suspicions. You understood that proof of your friendship lay in keeping your distance, in accepting what was told you, in turning and walking away when the door was shut in your face instead of trying to force it open again.”

“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are 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.”

“Or that those moments alone in the kitchen were something akin to meditative, the only times he found himself truly relaxing, his mind ceasing to scrabble forward, planning in advance the thousands of little deflections and smudgings of truth, of fact, that necessitated his every interaction with the world and its inhabitants?”

“One thing I’ve learned,” she said, “you have to talk about these things while they’re fresh. Or you’ll never talk about them. I’m going to teach you how to talk about them, because it’s going to get harder and harder the longer you wait, and it’s going to fester inside you, and you’re always going to think you’re to blame. You’ll be wrong, of course, but you’ll always think it.”

— Hanya Yanahihara, A Little Life

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