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I should also like to say a few words about the media coverage surrounding Norton’s trial, for it seems foolish to ignore both its tenor and its scope. I will first say that given the nature of the crimes of which Norton was accused, it has not surprised me in the least that the media has wasted pages and pages on stories that embroider, elaborately and with a shocking disregard for the truth, upon the few facts of Norton’s personal life known to the public.
The People in the Trees PDF Book by Hanya Yanagihara
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Admittedly, the stories did, rather begrudgingly, detail some of his considerable accomplishments, but only to throw into sharper relief his purported wickedness.) I recall that in those days I stood vigil with Norton in his house while he awaited his trial (outside, a group of television reporters spent their days congregating on the curb at the edge of Norton’s lawn.
Eating and chatting in the buzzy, insect-thick summer air as if at a picnic), of the many (unfulfilled, naturally) requests we received for interviews, only one—regrettably, Playboy—invited Norton to write his own defense instead of dispatching some salivating young writer to interpret his life and alleged misdeeds for the reading public.
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I had originally thought the offer a good idea, despite the forum, but Norton was worried that whatever he wrote would be manipulated and used against him as a confession. He was correct, of course, and that was the end of that idea.) But I also knew that the realization that he must not allow himself to speak in his own defense infuriated and saddened him.
Norton, of course, will say it all better than I, but I will here give the reader some details about the man at hand. He once remarked to me that his life did not begin in any meaningful way until he left the country for U’ivu, where he would make discoveries that would transform modern medicine and lead to his receipt of the Nobel Prize.
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In 1950, when he was twenty-five, he made his first trip to the then obscure Micronesian country, a trip that would change his life—and revolutionize the scientific community—forever. While in U’ivu, he lived among a “lost tribe” that would come to be called the Opa’ivu’eke people on what was then known (among U’ivuans, at least) as the “Forbidden Island” of Ivu’ivu, the largest in the country’s small formation.
It was there that he discovered a condition—an undocumented condition, one never before studied—that was affecting the native population. The U’ivuans were known (and to some extent still are known) for the brevity of their lifespans. But while on Ivu’ivu, Norton encountered a group of islanders who were living far beyond a normal lifespan: twenty, fifty, even a hundred years longer.
There were two other components that made this discovery even more remarkable: first, that while the affected persons did not physically age, they did mentally deteriorate; and second, that their condition was not congenital but acquired. It is discomfiting to me now, as I list these few details of my mother’s life, how little I know and how incurious I have remained about her. The People in the Trees PDF Book
I suppose every child yearns to understand his parental origins, but I never found her an interesting enough person to consider. (Or should that reasoning be inverted?) But then, I have never believed in romancing the past—what good would it do me? Owen, however, later became much more interested in our mother, and even passed through a period as an undergraduate in which he attempted to trace her family and complete an informal biography of her.
He abandoned the project months after its inception, however, and became very defensive about it when asked, so I can only assume he found our maternal relatives without much trouble, realized they were yokels, and gave the whole thing up in disgust (he was still enough of an avowed elitist back then to do exactly that). 6 She has always mattered to him in a way that I have never been able to understand.
But then, Owen is a poet, and I believe he thought it important that he have these details available for future employment, however mediocre or ultimately disappointing they may have been. A good death. I thought about that phrase often, until I became a doctor and saw for myself what Sybil meant. But as a child, the words were as mysterious as the concept of death itself. The People in the Trees PDF Book
A good death. My mother was someone who was given a good death. A dreamer, a ghost, she was given the greatest gift nature can grant. That night, she slipped under her quilt as quietly as she slid her feet into the pale, murmuring stream and closed her eyes, unaware and unafraid of where she might go next.
For years afterward, I had dreams in which my mother appeared in strange forms, her features sewn onto other beings in combinations that seemed both grotesque and profound: as a slippery white fish at the end of my hook, with a trout’s gaping, sorrowful mouth and her dark, shuttered eyes.
As the elm tree at the edge of our property, its ragged clumps of tarnished gold leaves replaced by knotted skeins of her black hair; as the lame gray dog that lived on the Muellers’ property, whose mouth, her mouth, opened and closed in yearning and who never made a sound. As I grew older, I came to realize that death had been easy for my mother; to fear death, you must first have something to tether you to life. The People in the Trees PDF Book
But she had not. It was as if she had been preparing for her death the entire time I knew her. One day she was alive; the next, not. Even Owen. Or should I say, especially Owen. We have not, of course, had either the easiest or the most consistent of relationships, but at one time Owen and I were very close, and even when we were not.
Even when he was passing through one of his childishly enthusiastic phases in which he adopted and abandoned idealisms and philosophies like other boys did girls, he was amusing, and witty, and bright. He was my ambassador to the world outside my own. Not that I myself was immune to romanticism. I remember as a young man once telling Owen that he should fashion himself after me.
Look at me, I told him (he rolled his eyes)—I am going to be a scientist. That is all I care about. You are too scattered, I told him. I warned him that he would become a dilettante if he did not become more disciplined. But now I almost admire Owen’s indecisiveness; it was almost as if he, to make up for my single-mindedness, was trying to be of as many minds as possible. The People in the Trees PDF Book Download
I was impatient then, of course, but now I can recall fondly my brother’s prickliness, his fierce idealism, his quickly burning passions. I remember Owen in those days as so vital, so indefatigable, so intellectually nimble in ways I was not. For such different-minded people, we were unusually and energetically competitive, but still—there were times when we agreed too, and during those moments we could argue anyone out of anything, bend them with our ferocity and righteousness.
At any rate, we could always match passions, even when our passions were not directed toward the same subjects. I rather enjoyed killing the mice. There were surprisingly few ways to do so: drugging them took too long and was too expensive; drowning them was messy and also tedious. And at any rate, either method would compromise key tissues we would need to study.
It was Ulliver who taught me how to kill them. What you did was hold a mouse by its tail and twirl it in a circle like a lasso until it was dizzy, its head lolling sickly from side to side. Then you’d put it on the table and with one hand hold its head behind its ears and with the other hand pull it up by its tail. The People in the Trees PDF Book Download
A little crick! and the neck would be broken. Sometimes Julian Turnbull and I would stand at either end of the long counter that ran down the middle of the mice lab, both of us whirling four or five mice in each hand, killing them in batches. It was a satisfying task, a small but real accomplishment to mark a day that, like so many other days, seemed devoid of structure, or progress, or meaning.
Then you’d take the mice to the main lab and spread them on one of the countertops, stomach up. You’d cut out each spleen—a tiny, savory-looking thing, richly, meatily brown and the size of a slender watermelon seed—and place each in its own Petri dish with a bit of saline.
You’d have next to you a springy pile of fine wire mesh, cut into one-inch-square pieces, which you’d sterilize over a flame, and then you’d rub the spleen against it into another Petri dish to obtain a single cell suspension. Spleens, of course, are soft and pulpy, like foie gras, and you had to be careful to only brush them against the mesh. The People in the Trees PDF Book Free
Anything more vigorous and you’d find the organ smeared over your fingers, sticky and dark as fudge. You might do this a few times, or until the organ had turned liquidy; then you’d pipette some of the sauce into a tube, examine it under a microscope, and record how many cells there were per milliliter.
It had been clear to me from the rapidity with which Uva and Tu had left us to hurry back to their families upon our last return to U’ivu that they would not soon or willingly make another trip to Ivu’ivu, but I missed them and their good-natured ways. The new guide, however—I could not tell if his name was Uo or Uvu—was a wonderful naturalist, and although he could not speak intelligibly.
I soon grew to admire and appreciate his ability to spot the smallest of wonders in the forest, which he would either bring to me or point out for my enjoyment. One day he brought me a scarlet petal as small as a chickpea, which upon examination I realized was an orchid, scaled down until it was impossibly tiny, its lip a pale, unearthly gray. The People in the Trees PDF Book Free
When he saw that I liked it, Uo beckoned me to a kanava tree a few yards off our path, and I saw that a small lake of them was painting the jungle floor a vibrant, bloody crimson. But what I loved most was their scent, one that mingled sweetness and decay at once and filled one’s nostrils so completely that its very memory lingered for hours afterward.
I have been told more times than I can tally how lucky I am: for the brevity of my sentence, for the fact that I have been placed in isolation, for my placement in this prison, which is considered one of the “better ones.” I sometimes feel that I am a cretin who has been miraculously admitted into a top-tier school and is never to be allowed to forget my odd good fortune.
Now my days here are almost at an end. In my more optimistic moods, I tell myself that this place will soon be just another of the many I have occupied and left: Lindon, Hamilton, Harvard, Stanford, NIH, the house in Bethesda. But in my more sober state, I realize that this is not so: all of those places (with the exception of Lindon) are destinations. The People in the Trees PDF Book Free
I aspired to and won entry to, each one researched and chosen, each one a place where I took and took what I needed in order to move on to the next. They were all places I wanted and dreamed of, and when I was ready to leave each, I did. But since I have been here, I have had no dreams.
They have disappeared exactly when I yearn for them, when I need them to fill my waking hours with their peacock extravagance. And in their absence I have begun to return more and more frequently to Ivu’ivu, which is, oddly, the place that this place resembles the most. Not in appearance, of course, but in its implacability, in its capture of me: it will decide when it is through with me, and apparently it isn’t yet satiated.