When I picked up this book, I had no idea who Hanya Yanagihara was and what A Little Life was about. Little did I know I was picking up a book that would become my best read in 2015.
A Little Life tells a story of four best friends who come to New York from a small town in Massachusetts to make their ways. Broke and full of hopes, their first years in New York remind me of how it was like being a college student. There is handsome, kind-hearted, aspiring actor Willem, quick-witted and sometimes cruel artist JB, a young frustrated yet sensitive and talented architect Malcolm, and enigmatic, intelligent, mysterious, kind lawyer Jude, who is the centre of the group yet the most closed one.
In the first few chapters, all of the three friends’ backgrounds are described, except Jude. Jude’s past described in the books alternately with the present story. As the story goes, Hanya Yanagihara takes the reader to solve the mysteries of Jude’s past and why Jude sees life as he sees it now. This is not an easy read; I had to put down the book several times and left it for a day because it devastated me. Then I read the present stories and I was deeply moved that I have to put it down again!
Yanagihara didn’t put any time reference in this book; it wasn’t clear when the story actually takes place. No historical events for reference, no modern technologies or application described, no politicians and celebrities news to pinpoint the years. Crazy that I just realized this after I finished the book.
As the four friends’ lives continue to adulthood, I’m impressed how they keep in touch with each other. This is one quote I love the most from Jude. He was tutoring Felix, a sad teenager with no friends, and he gave Felix a little life advice.
“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”
Jude’s past makes it so hard for him to trust people, yet he values his friendship with his three friends so much. Just like any other friendship, the four people in this story face turbulence in their relationship as well.
I think about my friends – those who stay long enough. This year I’ll be 32 and I’m so happy that I still talk to my friend whom I have known since we were 15. A 17-year-old relationship that has seen more than one or two heartbreak, deaths and births, weddings and separations, loves and other disasters.
Just yesterday I sat in front of her. She comes to town and we see each other at least once a month. Although maybe I’m not the easiest person around, I’m glad that I still have her when everyone else seems to dissipate. When I broke up last year, my then boyfriend said, “you are not the easiest person to be with,” as much as I want to prove him wrong I guess he’s probably right.
When it is so easy for him to find my replacement, I have a hard time even liking people in general. I sometimes question myself: will I ever find someone who sees inside of me and still wants to stay? When I feel uncertain, there she is – someone who knows me inside and out, and still here despite how moody, cruel, and difficult I am. Maybe it’s only a matter of fitting puzzle pieces. Sometimes it works, sometimes it just doesn’t.
What a little life we are all leading. A tiny dust in history. Heartbreaking it may be, Jude’s life and his friends’ seem like a dandellion seeds blown into the wind. Beautiful for the time being, forgotten soon. What we can do is to find someone who, even the puzzle won’t ever fit, is willing to try together.