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A Little Life review: The Heft and Heartbreak

One cold winter evening, nestled in my favored reading nook with a cup of hot chocolate, I opened “A Little Life” and felt myself being pulled into its gravitational force. Novels often promise to change our lives, but only a few truly shake our foundations. This one? It didn’t just shake; it shattered.


“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara follows the lives of four college classmates—Willem, Jude, Malcolm, and JB—as they navigate the treacherous waters of adulthood, from the hopeful days post-graduation to the more somber tones of middle age. At its core, the novel zeroes in on Jude St. Francis, a man scarred and bruised, both literally and metaphorically, by a traumatic past he struggles to disclose. This brilliant yet harrowing tale delves deep into the intricacies of friendships, love, trauma, and the relentless nature of human endurance.

While the story is filled with the ups and downs of life in New York City, its true essence lies in the deep emotional bonds and tragedies that tie these four men together. Yanagihara presents the raw, unfiltered depiction of trauma, love, and healing, even when healing seems impossible.

7 Notable Quotes

  1. “Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?”
  2. “He was lost in the silent caverns of his mind.”
  3. “But these were days of self-fulfillment, where settling for something that was not quite your first choice of a life seemed weak-willed and ignoble.”
  4. “Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
  5. “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.”
  6. “I’m lonely,” he says aloud, and the silence of the apartment absorbs the words like blood soaking into cotton.”
  7. “He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.”

My Review

There’s no escaping the weight of “A Little Life.” Its pages demand your emotional vulnerability, ensuring that you will, at times, need to pause just to breathe. My initial dive into the book conjured memories of friends who’ve become my chosen family, moments of intense joy, gut-wrenching pain, and the often agonizing journey of understanding oneself. Yanagihara’s mastery lies in her raw portrayal of life, unabridged and unrestrained.

Rating: 5/5

TV or Film Adaptations

Though there’s no official adaptation yet, the sheer depth and visual imagery in “A Little Life” scream for it to be brought to the screen. Imagine the layers of character complexities unfolding through the adept skills of cinema’s finest.

Author Bio
Hanya Yanagihara has cemented her place among contemporary literary giants with “A Little Life.” Her talent for deeply human narratives transcends typical storytelling, delving into the soul’s most profound corners.

FAQ or Reading Questions

  1. How does Yanagihara portray trauma and its long-term effects on an individual’s psyche in the book?
  2. Friendship is a recurrent theme in “A Little Life.” How do the dynamics of the four main characters evolve over the years?
  3. Discuss the importance of New York City as a backdrop to the story. In what ways does it enhance or influence the characters’ journeys?
  4. How does the novel address themes of love in various forms – romantic, platonic, and self-love?
  5. The title “A Little Life” seems paradoxical given the grand sweep of the narrative. What could it signify?

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