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A Q&A with Hanya Yanagihara, Author of January’s Upcoming Independent List’s Top Pick

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Independent booksellers across the country choose Hanya Yanagihara’s In paradise: a novel (Doubleday) as their top pick for the January 2022 Independent Next List.

Hanya Yanagihara (Credit: Sam Levy)

“Expansive, entirely original and utterly captivating,” said Christine Bollow of Loyalty Bookstore in Washington, DC. In Paradise is a masterpiece. Fans of Yanagihara A little life will find themselves making a little more room in their hearts for this wonderful, moving and brilliant story.

Here, Yanagihara discusses his process with Library this week.

Library this week: This book covers three alternate Americas in three different centuries. Where did you start? And what attracted you each year – 1893, 1993 and 2093?

Hanya Yanagihara: I knew I wanted to have three different Americas, each separated by a century, that would tell stories about different aspects of this country’s past, present, and future – those drawn from history and those made up. The country’s actual colonial history runs through all three parts: 1893, when the first section begins, is the year Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch, was overthrown.

MOREOVER: What happened in the construction of these worlds? Did one section come to you more easily than the others?

HY: No, they all happened at the same time, and I had to figure out how they were related. Once I realized how connected they were, I was able to really start writing. This happened in early 2018.

MOREOVER: What does your writing process look like?

HY: I have a full-time day job — I’m the editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine — so I write at night. I was much more disciplined with A little life: I wrote every evening, hours a night. With this book, I wrote almost every night, but there were nights, even weeks, when I did nothing. Personally, I don’t buy the idea that you should write every day, but when you To do have the wind at your back, you should try to go as far as you can. I’m writing a draft and that’s the book. Sure, there are thousands of tweaks, changes, and fixes I make along the way, but I don’t do structural revisions – I work on them before I start writing.

MOREOVER: Each part of the book features the same set of names, with perhaps two of the most important being David Bingham and Charles Griffith. While the names are the same, the characters themselves are not. Why reuse names in this way?

HY: Names – and the desire to get rid of one’s own name – are important in all three of my books (which I didn’t realize until I was done with this one). We all feel that we humans are the ones who create the world we live in, but this book asks, subtly, what if the opposite were true? What if there were limited versions of us humans, and the world made us instead?

MOREOVER: In an interview in 2016, you talked about structure as a challenge in A little life, and I imagine that was a challenge in In Paradise also. How did you develop this structure?

HY: I do not know. It just came to me. But once I had it, I had everything: how it would end, how the three sections would fit together, the leitmotifs that would flow from one section to another, etc.

MOREOVER: Infectious diseases are at the center of your first novel, people in the trees. And of course, the pandemic is something, globally, that we all think about. But what made you want to write about it in the last section of In Paradise?

HY: I’m not sure, I’ve always been interested in disease. It was certainly not of oracular power; I can tell you a lot. I started interviewing virologists in 2017; one of them predicted that there would be another great pandemic. But I thought nothing of it. And by the time we all got home from work in early March 2020, I was so immersed in the narrative of the third section that it felt completely divorced from what was going on outside.

MOREOVER: Did you feel like you were taking a risk? There are two camps of people right now, I noticed. Those who want to read about pandemics and those who don’t. Is – what people want to read – something you think about when you write?

HY: Oh, how interesting. But the only people I think about when I write is me. I want to read? — and my first reader, who is also my dearest friend.

MOREOVER: Have you thought about what you would like readers to take away from it?

HY: I want them to think about what America is, what it could be, how we might have seen it badly, how we could see it more honestly, what what it means to be a citizen of this country. I want them to come away with more questions – about what they will sacrifice for their personal sense of security, about when love will start to turn into coercion, about what it means to be a member of society – than they had.

MOREOVER: What role do independent bookstores play in your life?

HY: I wouldn’t be where I am as a writer without the independent bookstores that stepped in to support me when even my own publishing house was still skeptical. My local, Three Lives & Company, was one of the first stores to get excited about A Little Life. It’s thanks to him, and so many other outlets like Three Lives, that this novel found the readers it found. Independent booksellers are the most generous, passionate and sincere people you will meet in the publishing industry. Thank you, booksellers: it’s a real honor.