A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed that most Americans would not want to live beyond 100 years, even if advances in medicine made that possible. This may seem surprising given the amount of time and money people spend on diets, exercises, supplements, and other treatments that promise increased longevity. Perhaps we suspect the fountain of youth will be tainted, that immortality would have a Faustian hitch.
In Hanya Yanagihara’s fascinating and multilayered debut novel, “The People in the Trees,” certain natives of Ivu’ ivu, a fictional Micronesian island, live well beyond 100 years. Only those who reach the age of 60 eat the meat of a local turtle, after which their bodies remain vigorous for centuries. The problem is, their minds deteriorate rapidly, so they become, like the turtles, feeble beings encased in hardy shells. The “dreamers,” as these elders are known, are banished to a remote part of the island, shunned by their mortal, but mentally sharp, kinsmen.