A Little Life By Hanya Yanagihara: Book Review

The book opens up with a scene where four college friends, JB, a painter, Malcolm, an architect, Willem, an actor, and Jude, a litigator, are having lunch on a bright sunny afternoon in New York City. They are laughing, bantering, and eating like all other friends, but as you move up in the story, the breezy life of attending parties, finding apartments, going on dates, and gossip diminishes. The writer has very intelligently made you comfortable in your reader seat only to stir discomfort in the book’s latter pages. The prose is written in an eternal present day by scrubbing away references to any historical events. The effect is that it brings the character’s emotional lives to the foreground rendering the political and cultural Zeitgeist into vague scenery. As the pages turn, the ensemble recedes; with it, Jude comes to the fore and remains at the center. 

Jude, who’s 16 when he arrives at an affluent New England college with only a backpack of baggy clothes, parentless and horribly scarred. His legs disfigured in an incident whose details he guards as closely as everything else about his past, he’s profoundly aware of his “extreme otherness.” The book slowly discloses luridly gothic episodes from his life before college. “You were made for this, Jude,” he’s told by the only adult he loves, a monk who betrays his trust. Consequently, Jude comes to believe that his suffering is the result of his abandonment “He had been born, and left, and found, and used as he had been intended to be used.”

The book is scaled to the intensity of Jude’s inner life. The cutting becomes a leitmotif. Every fifty pages or so, we get a scene in which Jude mutilates his own flesh with a razor blade. It forces the reader to squirm with a queasy experience of the brutal world. Jude’s suffering is so extensively documented because it is the foundation of his character. His sense of self comes in waves of elaborating metaphors: he is “a scrap of bloodied, muddied cloth,” “a blank, faceless prairie under whose yellow surface earthworms and beetles wriggled,” “a scooped out husk.” His memories are “hyenas,” his fear, “a flock of flapping bats,” his self-hatred a “beast.” 

“A Little Life” keeps the queer suffering at the heart of the book. It uses the middle-class trappings of naturalistic fiction to deliver an unsettling meditation on abandonment, horrifying physical and sexual abuse, prostitution, abduction, and the difficulties of recovery. The collective traumas like sickness and discrimination, which have deeply shaped the modern gay identity, are approached obliquely. The writer has avoided the conventional narrative of coming out or the AIDS issues. 

For Jude, the relief comes in the form of career success and friendship. In addition to his law degree, Jude pursues a master’s in pure mathematics. At one point, he explains to his friends that he is drawn to math because it offers the possibility of “a wholly provable, unshakable absolute in a constructed world with very few unshakable absolutes.” Yanagihara has balanced ruthlessness by swashing us with the warmth and sunshine of friendship. Each friend of Jude’s tries to make innumerable accommodations to his daily needs. Malcolm, by designing spaces that will accommodate his disability; JB by painting kinder portraits that the eye alone would see; Willem by being the one person to whom he can tell his entire history. Willem and Jude invent their own type of relationship, which isn’t officially recognized or immortalized through words, but is truer and less constraining than legalized ones.

Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.” The prose beautifully depicts how friendship can be the primary relationship for some people. I loved how the book portrays the lives that are rarely depicted in popular art – a life without marriage and children. How, in periods of crisis, Jude’s friends monitor him like hawks, taking turns to feed him and keep a close eye on his self-harm.

For Jude, his friends are his only refuge and savior in this toxic world. Yet the ending makes you realize that in the end, you are really left on your own. Even though so many friends come in and out of Jude’s life, nobody is really able to save him. And that part is a very accurate reflection of, lot of adult lives. 

Blethering Away

The brisk wind is swashing away the tiny particles from your memories. I often pick up my magnifying glass to watch these small particles move. Sometimes they collide with each other, exchanging information; other times, they maintain their safe distance, watching others’ movements. I often feel that human interactions are the same. We sometimes collide with other people, exchange feelings, comprehend them, and enjoy those rendezvous. And when the forces that were gluing us become weaker, we move our separate ways. Amongst this all, there are watchers, who witness other people’s lives, from a faraway place, never being part of it.

These particles are the watchers of our life, who remain interested in us, but never get the chance or the courage to have a conversation. All their life, they remain an arbitrary object in the life of the admired. The sun rises and sets; the withering leaves take the place of hot summer days, and decades pass, but they remain there, as a constant. Their interest in you might not necessarily be romantic; you just have piqued their curiosity. Now they move across social platforms to catch glimpses of your fleeting life.

If you are a celebrity, you might call them a fan or a follower, and if its BTS, you say army. But if you look deeply through your lense, you will realize we all have a bunch of watchers in our life. If you are Indian, you always have neighbors, some long lost distant relatives, who tend to follow you across social media, and know more about your life then your parents. And if you are not social media friendly, they might keep an eye through human chains. They are unknown faces, who coincidentally came across you, and now hold a little interest in the ongoings of your life. They might be your anonymous readers, your art collectors, a view on your not so famous youtube vlog.

As the day turns grey, you walk into a coffee shop for your fill, and you stumble into a stranger who looks familiar yet unfamiliar. Maybe they are your watcher, looking furtively at you, as your admirer. Or perhaps they are still contemplating your importance in their life. Sometimes the watcher particle might lose interest in watching you. The reason could vary from too many to watch in their list to gluing with some new particle.
They silently enter and leave your periphery, leaving absolutely no footprints.

Then someday, some random persons tell you about the existence of these particles. You are initially surprised, then slowly absorb the laid information. Now a new desire has spurt in your heart to know this stranger, who has left your orbit. Stealthily, you walk into deep dark woods, cleaning up the hung webs, and plunge into the ecstasy of walking into a fresh stream.

Steadily, you leave your elliptical orbit to ramble into another’s. The watched becomes the watcher. And so they say, the life moves in circles, it seems they might be right, after all. The number of particles in the universe remains constant; they might just be changing positions.

Treachery

Two weeks back, on a sunny afternoon, she got a call. “Rhythm, there is a new task for you, check your mail, and report to Headquarters immediately.” Before she could ask any further questions, he hung up. Hurriedly, she got out of bed and packed her bag to visit the Headquarters. 

She has been working as Pennyweighter for a man called Jack. It started as a game when one day she painted a replica of Salvador Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci and replaced it with the original and earned her first Billion dollar. No one noticed this theft except Jack, who had his eye on her throughout the auction night. To keep his mouth shut, he took thirty percent of the total payment and asked her to join his monkey business. 

Rhythm was an orphan from the time she can remember; she shuttled herself between orphanages and different foster homes. It made her skeptical about people and their intentions. She considered trust as the first step towards self-destruction. That’s why she always kept herself one step ahead of the others in the game of life.  

The auction is in a palace with an invite-only guest list. The world’s best security surrounds the castle. Rhythm is not exquisitely beautiful, but you couldn’t resist looking at her when she walks into a room. She is a hummingbird amidst the crowd of white swans, small yet colourful with a melody to melt every heart. She is wearing a simple vintage white dress; a matching fascinator adorns her long, tied hair. With the elegance of a princess, she walks down the hall.

Holding a glass of sparkling champagne, she moves towards her destination. In the centre of the room on in a beautiful pink coloured glass box lies the lustrous Kohinoor. While she is still rehearsing her plan, a tall man clad in a black tuxedo walks towards her. “Isn’t it beautiful,” she looks up at the speaker and nods in agreement. He laughs and whispers in her ear, “I know, you are planning to steal it.” Bewildered, she takes a few steps back. But he pulls her back and gazes deeply into her eyes and declares, “You are soon going to fall in love with me,” and walks away casually, leaving her befuddled. 

She calms herself and looks around for the man. She has to execute her plan before the mysterious man returns. She stealthily pulled out the replica and tapped the left corner of the case with a laser beam intact in her nails. A small opening appears, she surreptitiously replaces the diamond with the replica. While the crowd is busy laughing at Prince’s jokes, Rhythm walks away with the Kohinoor.

She picks up her phone, said, “Please bring the car to the gate.” She crossed the room briskly. A smile of relief adorns her face when she sees the Rolls-Royce at the gate. But before she could sit in the car, the tuxedo man stops her. “You cannot leave now,” she politely rejects his advances and says, “My car is here.” A wicked smile plasters his face, and he utters, “But you haven’t seen the real Kohinoor yet.” She splutters with an ashen face, “What about the one in the hall.” Smirking, he replies, “Oh, It’s just a replica. The original one is inside a safe, shown only to VVIPs.” 

He held out his hand, unwilling she grabbed it and went inside. They walk into the elevators, and the man pressed the button for the top floor. On reaching the top floor, they walked straight into a brightly lit room. There, on a high slender, wooden table sat the Kohinoor laced in a red velvet cloth without any other protection. She freed herself from his grip and moved towards the table. She picked up the magnifying glass from the side and examined the diamond. She turns back and asks, “Why isn’t it inside a secured case,” he laughs and says, “A thief would never be able to enter inside this floor without my permission.” Leaning in, he kissed her rosy lips. The kiss felt like melting sugar; the more she devoured, the more she craved his luscious lips. And when he gently pulled away, there was a fire of desire in his eyes, engulfing every tiny molecule of her body.

He held her hand, and they silently walked in his suite; he called his Butler and said: “The Night is over for me.” Keeping his phone aside in silent mode, he ferociously kissed her nape. They were like a well and thirsty traveler to each other; the more they drank, the more they craved, filling their body and soul’s insatiable desires. 

The next morning when she woke up, the only thing she remembered was his handsome face in the moonlit night, the gentle breeze ruffling his dark brown hair, his synchronous breath, and the reassuringly slow and steady heartbeat of his heart. 

She got out of bed and went to the bathroom to take a shower. When she came out, she saw a message on the side table saying, “I am in a meeting, don’t leave without meeting me.” She smiled, liked a fool in love and got ready, and moved out of his suite. She was leisurely walking around when she heard a peal of laughter; inquisitively, she walked towards the incoming voices. 

When she peeped in through the slight gap of the door, she saw two-man talking obnoxiously. To her horror, she realized it was Her Man and Jack, her boss. And they were talking about her. “I told you she would fall for me; no woman can resist aristocracy, now we will have both the diamond and the insurance money.” 

Jack asked, “What about her?”.

The Man laughed, “She will go to jail in case of robbery, but not before I get the money from the insurance company.” 

Tears rolled down her eyes; she was right all along in not trusting people. She moved back into the suite and changed into her biking gear, which she kept handy for emergency escapes. She left the place, leaving only a note for the deceitful men. 

“Leaving right now, but my surprise awaits you tomorrow.”

The next morning, the world woke up with Prince’s news in police custody for the missing Kohinoor’s treachery.

Rainbow Bulle

The yellow boots,
drenched in rainwater,
with mud spatters,
enters the big puddle.
A small rainbow bubble
welcomes the two feet.
Two adjoining dots,
peer back,
the lurking shadow.
It resembles someone,
but whom,
it knows, not.
They both,
watch,
unfolding layers,
of the other.
They both look the same,
yet they are years apart.
One with yellow boots,
only smiles,
while the other,
laugh with eyes closed.
One has melancholy eyes,
the other, sunlit sparkles in them.
The furrowed eyebrows,
gaze,
at moonlit glow,
of the other.
Yes, they might look the same
but are years apart.
The umbra,
with knitted eyebrows,
gaze quizzically,
towards the two poles,
of this side.
As if asking,
the why’s
of the metamorphosis.
With a wry smile,
the vulnerable self,
answers, back politely.
People and time,
the
ever changing,
two’s of the world.
The silhouette,
slowly picks up,
the
coloured droplet,
and passes it on,
to the absolute.
The reverie breaks.
The yellow boots,
drenched in rainwater,
with mud spatters,
moves out of the large puddle,
leaving the trace,
of seven-band,
healed aura.

Three ways

Sitting here, in dark,

I watch you,

Bathing in luminous pale light,

You glow,

With sheer whiteness,

Like a moon.

And I ponder,

The what ifs.

Will this proximity,

blur your innocence,

Or,

The purity of your heart,

will snuggle me.

Does my darkness,

Holds the power,

To engulf you.

Or is it other way round,

Where,

your light will seep in,

Filling the hollowness of my heart.

Will this,

Crossover jeopardize everything,

Turning your world upside down.

But what if,

The world looks glorious,

Upside down.

Or,

How about,

meeting in the middle,

Where your shine,

Sprinkled by my grayness,

As a silvery beauty.

What if,

The dark of my side,

Will open the chain,

Of your phosphorous glow.

Or,

Is it that,

Somewhere hidden beneath,

All the layers,

Of our worldly views,

there is us,

In all our nakedness,

Entwined,

Twin bodies,

With just,

one soul.

Building a simple,

Three way street.

The Red Gift

There it was, in the open, lying, in front of his blue gate, on a golden box covered with a red silk cloth. A simple yellow stick note slipped under the box. The light from the full moon was making the box and its content glitter. All that was glittering wasn’t gold but was far more precious than everything he ever possessed.

He never knew there would come a day where something that he has chased for so long would be lying at his doorsteps, for his to keep, for a, forever. And now when it was so near, he was afraid to go near it. A surge of sudden fear uproared making him apprehensive, and he felt as if his mere touch would make it vanish away. The disquiet of the night led him to think that all that was happening wasn’t right. Somehow he was questioning himself again and again whether the bestowed gift wasn’t his to behold?

He knew that someone has given up everything to bring it up to him. Someone has crossed oceans and boundaries to serve it to him on a golden box. Someone has given up thyself, for thou were the Thee. The musings of his mind won’t settle down, and they were keeping him away from his long-cherished path.

The zephyr holding the fragrance of what lay in the wrapped cloth, tantalizing his senses, to look beyond his vision. His eyes fell on the stick note, with crabbed writing in red, saying,

“The gift is yours to behold, do what you think fitful.”

The words pierced his soul, subsiding every dilemma of his heart and mind. He sauntered towards the golden gift with the glistening eyes. With trepidation, he picked up the golden box, looking again at the scribbled words, touching them with his fingers and savoring them, giving delight to his soul. And then he unraveled the red cloth, holding the most precious gift of his lifetime, her HEART.

“In your light, I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”  ―  Rumi

Fernweh

The yellow rain boots,
with layers of mud,
kept going,
in the marshes.
The pale pink dress,
drenched,
snugging to the body,
was moving.
Disheveled long hair,
swaying,
as darkness engulfed
all around,
with the bursting
of grey clouds.
Tired yet alive,
In pain but still moving,
to where,
who knows,
Running,
walking,
limping,
but still,
moving,
in the pursuit of happiness,
Clenching hope,
between her,
pruney fingers,
of,
new dawn.

Fernweh is German word, means an ache to get away and travel to a distant place, a feeling even stronger than wanderlust.It literally translates to “distance-sickness.”. While someone with wanderlust might sit at home and happily fantasize about all the places they might visit, someone with fernweh would feel a deeper sense of longing, a sort of homesickness but for foreign lands.

Where do the broken hearts go?

The rib-cage holding the hearts
from flying away,
In the shadows of darkness.
Otherwise,
where, do you think the broken hearts go?
Dipping in the sorrow,
of the ocean of shed tears,
dissolving the hidden pain.
Where else,
do you think the broken hearts go?
Numbing the emotions,
with sips of moonshine,
they sit on a vacant road.
Otherwise,
where, do you think the broken hearts go?
Sitting by the seaside,
looking into the vastness,
filling the holes
with the salty air.
Where else,
do you think the broken hearts go?
Scribbling on the blank pages,
with verses,
that tear apart.
Otherwise,
where, do you think the broken hearts go?
Strumming the chords,
pouring,
the aching heart,
into the world.
Where else,
do you think the broken hearts go?
Sometimes, they stumble,
and meet,
other broken hearts,
It’s here,
the first healing begins.
Otherwise,
where, do you think the broken hearts go?

Parched

In the desert
of arid plains,
the vision gets blurred,
with the hailing
sandstorm.
Sinking feet,
in the dry sand,
distancing,
from the oasis.
Eyes of barren land,
looking out,
for a few drops,
of rain.
The parched
seeks its,
ocean,
in the scorching sun.
Amongst the mosaic,
of dunes,
stood,
his bluest ocean.
But for others,
it is just a,
fountain.

Crescent to Full Moon

As darkness engulfs the vacant streets,
I light up myself,
To eat up the delicate shadows,
Of her, fragile body.

She was walking on the pavement, lost in her thoughts, uncared about the drizzle turning into heavy rain. The long wet hair was sticking to her face, and the crocs were squelching on the empty road. A little beam from the nearby lampposts was falling on her left side, and she looked like a crescent moon, awaiting perfection. A deep unsettling feeling has surged inside her. And these fluctuating waves were leading to a simmering pot of fire hidden deep inside her. Why was she feeling so angry? Was it a person or environment, causing her so much trouble. An unpleasant day which started with her losing her black pearl earring in the shower to her nearly getting hit by a car while crossing the road — followed by a stormy discussion with her boss on a new project.

She has given up on people a long time ago, or has she? Was she disguising her expectations from herself? After all, this time did she still believe that people can do things for her, selflessly. Or is just one person from whom her all expectation come rising. But she gave up on him too, a long time ago. And yet here she was feeling broken again because he didn’t reply to her text. She knew he wouldn’t, yet she couldn’t stop her heart from betraying her resolution of never texting him again. How could she, it was his birthday, a date which meant so many things to her. But then it was she who has asked him to leave her alone. She still remembers the night when she cruelly said those words, cutting the last thread of their unnamed relationship. She knew he had blocked her from all the platforms, but she hasn’t done that yet. She didn’t want to close this last gate, what if he wants to talk to her someday and what if when he tries, he couldn’t reach her. Hope against hope of losing or should she say finding herself again in those eyes where the chaos of the world, subsidies. Or maybe she needs to learn the art of walking alone. A tear trickled down her cheek, she smiled wryly and wiped her tear. It’s then she realized her phone was ringing in her raincoat’s pocket. Fumbling she took it out of her pocket. Glistening like a pearl was his name flashing on the screen filled with tiny rain droplets. She looked bemused, and then she smiled, lightning her dim eyes.
Now standing below the lamppost, she was the radiant full moon.

PS: Huhhh… finally after so many unfinished drafts of poems and stories written over last few days, I managed to write this small fiction piece, today. I hope you guys like my attempt. Do share your feedback in comments section.