To Paradise: Saga of alternative America fails to transcend its ideas

Hanya Yanagihara explores important ideas but cast serves as mouthpieces for concepts

Hanya Yanagihara: Her new novel imagines an alternate America across three eras, at the ends of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty

Hanya Yanagihara: Her new novel imagines an alternate America across three eras, at the ends of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty

When word got out that Hanya Yanagihara had a new novel coming out, the running joke was to schedule therapy sessions around its release date. Her previous novel, the Booker-shortlisted bestseller A Little Life (2015) – a harrowing tale of abuse – is a perennial favourite on TikTok “books that made me cry” reels.

The good – or bad – news, depending on whether you’re after a tearjerker, is that To Paradise leaves readers’ eyes dry. The saga imagines an alternate America in three eras: at the ends of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Its three parts are seemingly related through recurring character names (based on American missionaries to Hawaii, where Yanagihara spent part of her childhood) and places, including a townhouse on Washington Square. Unlike the reincarnation device in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004), however, there are no further links between the characters.

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