Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise Transcends Time to Deliver an Ethical Narrative

Imagine it is the year 2076 and you live in a totalitarian America, torn apart by pandemics. You’re a scientist. You are also a primary architect of a network of government-run isolation camps that those infected with a deadly viral disease are quarantined to die in. You stand by this creation for humanitarian reasons. The humane policy, you say, is to save as many people as possible by removing the dying from their midst – by force, if necessary. But then your grandson gets sick.

What you do then sounds like a classic ethical question. But is it really a difficult decision? Such is the core of Kun Yanagihara‘s extensive new novel, To Paradise, an epic multi-generational saga about class, sexuality, science, gender, human rights and race. It spans 720 pages and is a tale of manners, family, migration and political dystopia that sounds like Edith Wharton meets Jonathan Franzen meetings Mohsin Hamid | meets George Orwell.

Written as a triptych, To Paradise begins with “Washington Square,” which takes place in 1893 in an alternative America after the Civil War. The Confederate states are now poor colonies, and a gentle stream of refugees flees north to the free states; where gay marriage is fully legalized and women have had the right to vote since 1799, but black Americans are not welcome. Here, we meet the Bingham family in their magnificent home on Greenwich Village’s Washington Square, with a Great Man patriarch worried that his lukewarm grandson is being tricked into a pseudo-romance with a working-class gripper with designs on his fortunes.

The second round, entitled “Lipo-Wao-Nahele”, takes place a century later in 1993. Now it is Charles, a wealthy lawyer, and David, his much younger girlfriend – a descendant of Hawaii’s last monarch – who occupy Washington Square’s home. . While New York struggles with the AIDS crisis, David’s father writes from his deathbed in Hawaii to apologize for devoting his life to the apparent fringe political cause of monarchical restoration.

It requires nothing from its predecessors to call “Zone Eight”, the novel’s last pandemic era, its most captivating. migrations, “cooling suits” and rationing of electricity and water. The government forcibly removes the infected to die in detention centers, and the bodies are burned in incinerators. The last inhabitants of the Washington Square House are the government researcher who helped design these camps, and his beloved grandson, who triggers both his hypocrisy and humanity when she falls ill.

This is where Yanagihara evens out the playing field. In “Zone Eight”, disorders are distributed equally for the first time and they are no longer distributed on the basis of race, ethnicity, class or gender. Attenuated by the virus, twin boys die in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, simply by stepping outside. Raids on apartment buildings suspected of housing infected people are carried out in both affluent and impoverished neighborhoods. And the lesions on a person’s skin, rather than its color, are now what determines their likelihood of being shot by the state.

“On his chest were about a dozen places where he had tried to hide signs of the disease,” one woman notes one day as she crossed paths with a refugee from the containment centers during her commute. “And then the man jumped up against my window … and I could finally hear what he was shouting, even through the window: Help Me. And then there was a bang, and the man’s head kicked back, and he fell out of my sight. ”


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