Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.
I had the privilege of seeing Hanya Yanigihara talk at the Ubud Writers and Readers festival back in 2016. Over the two days I was able to attend, this was by far the busiest and most popular event on the schedule. It was clear that Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life, had touched so many people – myself included – and it’s easy to see why.
Although A Little Life revolves around four male friends living/struggling to live in New York City after they have graduated from university, its themes – relationships between men, trauma, self-harm, recovery and more – become much larger than the title suggests. Described by some as being relentless in its violence and suffering, A Little Life also documents the small, touching interactions between people that can have a huge impact on a person’s wellbeing. However, Yanagihara doesn’t hold back or censor her writing. She forces the reader to consider very difficult questions about happiness – whether it’s always achievable – and whether there comes a point where a person’s life becomes unliveable. In A Little Life Yanagihara is unafraid of confronting the reader with all aspects of life and that’s why I admire her writing so much – it can be brutal but also beautiful and pushes most readers out of their comfort zones.
For another unsettling read, Hanya Yanagihara’s debut novel, The People In The Trees, is the story of an anthropologist who, having discovered the secret to ‘immortality’ among a little-known Polynesian tribe, falls from grace after accusations of child molestation. Based loosely on the true story of Nobel Prize winner Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, Yanagihara creates a beautiful but disturbing tale told from the point of view of the accused anthropologist who is behind bars.
Hanya Yanagihara is an American writer who grew up in Hawaii. A fourth-generation Hawaiian and half Korean, Yanagihara lives in New York. She is the author of two novels: The People In The Trees (2013) and A Little Life (2015).