Pulling at your heart – “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara

I wish I had that edition.


It was a walk in the woods, a punch in the gut. It is the book of 2015, all 800 pages of it.

Events in this book happens over the course of decades, where four friends started off in New York City as graduates. But really, it is about how their lives revolve around the one beautiful and troubled, Jude St. Francis. Throughout my years of reading so many books, he is a character that represents how some things in life cannot be fully erased. Despite having a limp, Jude is smart, inquisitive, and ended up being a well-respected litigator in the city…and yet, he is also a cutter. His three friends Willem, Malcolm and J.B love him, but they know, they know never to ask him about his childhood. Over the years, we see how their relationship strengthens and darkens, particularly as Jude starts to descend to the pits of his own traumatized mind. Once you do find out about what happened though, it will never escape your mind and it is of outmost difficulty for me to not color outside the lines here.

So let us discuss what makes this book unbelievably stellar.

Yanagihara has created a clear prose, filled with so much genuineness that enables readers to connect and even recognize the characters to be people they know in their own lives. I will say that there is a heavy subject matter, yet she doesn’t linger on exaggeration and no matter how are so frustrated, how we ache for Jude, we will have no reason but to understand. His friends eventually know this too.  As a result, you are able to emphatize with the characters without being put off by pretentiousness. You feel the happiness and pain of almost every character, in fact, I could tell you that this is the only book made my head ache while reading. An actual physical reaction. My hands would turn sweaty that I had to put the book down time and again because it really was too much.

She also has put so much love, such a masterful effort on creating a character so enigmatic and broken such as Jude. That she is able to present him with so much light, then pull him back to the deepest, darkest dungeons which forces us to see the extent of how Jude allows his past to define the rest of his life. In fact, we are somehow reminded once again of some tragic literary figures in Jude because of the things he believed about himself, and how he means it. Yet, Yanagihara is till able to maintain the flow from one character to the other, one period to the next without anything going stale.

This book will have you stay up (trust me) until the late hours, then finding it extremely hard to compensate because you are not able to stop thinking about it as it actually hurts to let this book end.

What I learned:

It really was like living through another Shakespeare-themed English class, because Yanagihara showed me the complexities of humanity- of love, frustration, anger, suffering, and if we really are able to let it go. It also taught me so much about love- what it means to love, how to love, and why it is the only thing that matters. Why do I say that? Because despite Jude’s successes, despite how he excels in maintaining a lifetime reputation as a litigator in order to live; his suffering inhibits him from treasuring and accept the love people have for him. To accept the very things us humans actually live for; (in the words of Mr. John Keating from Dead Poets Society) love, companionship, beauty, romance.

Hyperbolic as it may be, I still do think about Jude’s struggle to accept love and I salute Hanya Yanagihara for this achievement of a book.