Reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


I remember a colleague of mine told me she couldn’t remember what was about in a book that she has read. Now that I have read novels and non-fictions one after another, I want to make sure that I will take home at least one thing from each of the books that I have read. I just finished reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

The story is pretty straightforward. As the title indicates, A Little Life, it is about one person’s little life — Jude, though the novel starts with the lives of four college kids.
JB — artist, gay man
Willem — actor, gay man
Jude St. Francis — lawyer, gay man
Malcolm — architect, non-gay, got married
In the end, only JB survives. Willem and Malcolm died in a car accident. The four men were friends and roommates in college and continued being friends throughout their lives.

More than anything else, the novel is about the long-time impact of the traumatic experience that Jude had during his childhood. He was a foundling in a bag by a dumpster, picked up, raised and abused by monks in a monastery. One man (Brother Luke, a pimp) took him out of the monastery when he was 8 years old and turned him into a male prostitute. He prostituted till he was 15 years old. He developed the habit of cutting himself during that period and continued throughout his life.

Jude wasn’t able to recover psychologically and emotionally from his childhood trauma throughout his life, even though he was smart, very handsome, worked very hard, became successful lawyer, loved by everybody who knew him. He committed suicide at age 53.

I think the author’s message is one’s children’s trauma is like a lifelong psychological wound that is hard to erase, that is continuing cutting a person, that it is crucial that parents provide children with a happy childhood so that they can grow into healthy adults.

Some people might think there are plenty of people who haven’t had healthy childhoods and not all end up killing themselves. I agree with this view. There are always something that we cannot control in our lives, especially in our childhood, but once we are strong enough to protect ourselves and wise enough to make sound decision, we can be and should be masters of our lives.

Then again, I think people are different. In some rare cases, some people simply can’t rise above life’s traumas and adversities. Since I don’t have that kind of extremely traumatic childhood, thank goodness, so I don’t know what I would do if I were in Jude’s shoes. That’s why I try not to judge too harshly.

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