To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara review – is this the land of the free?

The impressive follow-up to A Little Life explores liberty and entropy across three time periods, from an alternative 19th-century New York to a totalitarian future

In the final section of Hanya Yanagihara’s tripartite novel, there is an episode that functions as a compressed emblem of the book’s intricately assembled themes and intensely anxious preoccupations. Having already been immersed in narratives set in the 19th and 20th centuries, the reader is now taken far into the 21st, an era in which pandemics sweep the globe in waves, each time altering the civic and political order. As a new virus threatens to take hold, a mother isolates her twin sons, survivors of an earlier sickness that has left them so immuno-compromised they can never again leave the house. After she herself succumbs, and they run out of food, they venture outside, and die.

The scientist who discovers their bodies wonders why they didn’t call for help, hypothesising that perhaps it was “because they wanted to see the world. I imagined them joining hands and walking out the door, down the steps, and into their backyard. There they’d stand, holding each other’s hands, smelling the air, and looking up at the treetops all around them, their mouths opening in wonder, their lives becoming glorious – for once – even as they ended.”

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