A Little Life

A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

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A Little Life follows four college classmates—broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition—as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma. A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385539265
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/10/2015
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 736
Sales rank: 11,352
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Hanya Yanagihara lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt


The eleventh apartment had only one closet, but it did have a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony, from which he could see a man sitting across the way, outdoors in only a T-shirt and shorts even though it was October, smoking. Willem held up a hand in greeting to him, but the man didn’t wave back.

In the bedroom, Jude was accordioning the closet door, opening and shutting it, when Willem came in. “There’s only one closet,” he said.

“That’s okay,” Willem said. “I have nothing to put in it anyway.”

“Neither do I.” They smiled at each other. The agent from the building wandered in after them. “We’ll take it,” Jude told her.

But back at the agent’s office, they were told they couldn’t rent the apartment after all. “Why not?” Jude asked her.

“You don’t make enough to cover six months’ rent, and you don’t have anything in savings,” said the agent, suddenly terse. She had checked their credit and their bank accounts and had at last realized that there was something amiss about two men in their twenties who were not a couple and yet were trying to rent a one-bedroom apartment on a dull (but still expensive) stretch of Twenty-fifth Street. “Do you have anyone who can sign on as your guarantor? A boss? Parents?”

“Our parents are dead,” said Willem, swiftly.

The agent sighed. “Then I suggest you lower your expectations. No one who manages a well-run building is going to rent to candidates with your financial profile.” And then she stood, with an air of finality, and looked pointedly at the door.

When they told JB and Malcolm this, however, they made it into a comedy: the apartment floor became tattooed with mouse droppings, the man across the way had almost exposed himself, the agent was upset because she had been flirting with Willem and he hadn’t reciprocated.

“Who wants to live on Twenty-fifth and Second anyway,” asked JB. They were at Pho Viet Huong in Chinatown, where they met twice a month for dinner. Pho Viet Huong wasn’t very good--the pho was curiously sugary, the lime juice was soapy, and at least one of them got sick after every meal--but they kept coming, both out of habit and necessity. You could get a bowl of soup or a sandwich at Pho Viet Huong for five dollars, or you could get an entrée, which were eight to ten dollars but much larger, so you could save half of it for the next day or for a snack later that night. Only Malcolm never ate the whole of his entrée and never saved the other half either, and when he was finished eating, he put his plate in the center of the table so Willem and JB--who were always hungry--could eat the rest.

“Of course we don’t want to live at Twenty-fifth and Second, JB,” said Willem, patiently, “but we don’t really have a choice. We don’t have any money, remember?”

“I don’t understand why you don’t stay where you are,” said Malcolm, who was now pushing his mushrooms and tofu--he always ordered the same dish: oyster mushrooms and braised tofu in a treacly brown sauce--around his plate, as Willem and JB eyed it.

“Well, I can’t,” Willem said. “Remember?” He had to have explained this to Malcolm a dozen times in the last three months. “Merritt’s boyfriend’s moving in, so I have to move out.”

“But why do you have to move out?”

“Because it’s Merritt’s name on the lease, Malcolm!” said JB.

“Oh,” Malcolm said. He was quiet. He often forgot what he considered inconsequential details, but he also never seemed to mind when people grew impatient with him for forgetting. “Right.” He moved the mushrooms to the center of the table. “But you, Jude--”

“I can’t stay at your place forever, Malcolm. Your parents are going to kill me at some point.”

“My parents love you.”

“That’s nice of you to say. But they won’t if I don’t move out, and soon.”

Malcolm was the only one of the four of them who lived at home, and as JB liked to say, if he had Malcolm’s home, he would live at home too. It wasn’t as if Malcolm’s house was particularly grand--it was, in fact, creaky and ill-kept, and Willem had once gotten a splinter simply by running his hand up its banister--but it was large: a real Upper East Side town house. Malcolm’s sister, Flora, who was three years older than him, had moved out of the basement apartment recently, and Jude had taken her place as a short-term solution: Eventually, Malcolm’s parents would want to reclaim the unit to convert it into offices for his mother’s literary agency, which meant Jude (who was finding the flight of stairs that led down to it too difficult to navigate anyway) had to look for his own apartment.

And it was natural that he would live with Willem; they had been roommates throughout college. In their first year, the four of them had shared a space that consisted of a cinder-blocked common room, where sat their desks and chairs and a couch that JB’s aunts had driven up in a U-Haul, and a second, far tinier room, in which two sets of bunk beds had been placed. This room had been so narrow that Malcolm and Jude, lying in the bottom bunks, could reach out and grab each other’s hands. Malcolm and JB had shared one of the units; Jude and Willem had shared the other.

“It’s blacks versus whites,” JB would say.

“Jude’s not white,” Willem would respond.

“And I’m not black,” Malcolm would add, more to annoy JB than because he believed it.

“Well,” JB said now, pulling the plate of mushrooms toward him with the tines of his fork, “I’d say you could both stay with me, but I think you’d fucking hate it.” JB lived in a massive, filthy loft in Little Italy, full of strange hallways that led to unused, oddly shaped cul-de-sacs and unfinished half rooms, the Sheetrock abandoned mid-construction, which belonged to another person they knew from college. Ezra was an artist, a bad one, but he didn’t need to be good because, as JB liked to remind them, he would never have to work in his entire life. And not only would he never have to work, but his children’s children’s children would never have to work: They could make bad, unsalable, worthless art for generations and they would still be able to buy at whim the best oils they wanted, and impractically large lofts in downtown Manhattan that they could trash with their bad architectural decisions, and when they got sick of the artist’s life--as JB was convinced Ezra someday would--all they would need to do is call their trust officers and be awarded an enormous lump sum of cash of an amount that the four of them (well, maybe not Malcolm) could never dream of seeing in their lifetimes. In the meantime, though, Ezra was a useful person to know, not only because he let JB and a few of his other friends from school stay in his apartment--at any time, there were four or five people burrowing in various corners of the loft--but because he was a good-natured and basically generous person, and liked to throw excessive parties in which copious amounts of food and drugs and alcohol were available for free.

“Hold up,” JB said, putting his chopsticks down. “I just realized--there’s someone at the magazine renting some place for her aunt. Like, just on the verge of Chinatown.”

“How much is it?” asked Willem.

“Probably nothing--she didn’t even know what to ask for it. And she wants someone in there that she knows.”

“Do you think you could put in a good word?”

“Better--I’ll introduce you. Can you come by the office tomorrow?”

Jude sighed. “I won’t be able to get away.” He looked at Willem.

“Don’t worry--I can. What time?”

“Lunchtime, I guess. One?”

“I’ll be there.”

Willem was still hungry, but he let JB eat the rest of the mushrooms. Then they all waited around for a bit; sometimes Malcolm ordered jackfruit ice cream, the one consistently good thing on the menu, ate two bites, and then stopped, and he and JB would finish the rest. But this time he didn’t order the ice cream, and so they asked for the bill so they could study it and divide it to the dollar.

The next day, Willem met JB at his office. JB worked as a receptionist at a small but influential magazine based in SoHo that covered the downtown art scene. This was a strategic job for him; his plan, as he’d explained to Willem one night, was that he’d try to befriend one of the editors there and then convince him to feature him in the magazine. He estimated this taking about six months, which meant he had three more to go.

JB wore a perpetual expression of mild disbelief while at his job, both that he should be working at all and that no one had yet thought to recognize his special genius. He was not a good receptionist. Although the phones rang more or less constantly, he rarely picked them up; when any of them wanted to get through to him (the cell phone reception in the building was inconsistent), they had to follow a special code of ringing twice, hanging up, and then ringing again. And even then he sometimes failed to answer--his hands were busy beneath his desk, combing and plaiting snarls of hair from a black plastic trash bag he kept at his feet.

JB was going through, as he put it, his hair phase. Recently he had decided to take a break from painting in favor of making sculptures from black hair. Each of them had spent an exhausting weekend following JB from barbershop to beauty shop in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, waiting outside as JB went in to ask the owners for any sweepings or cuttings they might have, and then lugging an increasingly awkward bag of hair down the street after him. His early pieces had included The Mace, a tennis ball that he had de-fuzzed, sliced in half, and filled with sand before coating it in glue and rolling it around and around in a carpet of hair so that the bristles moved like seaweed underwater, and “The Kwotidien,” in which he covered various household items--a stapler; a spatula; a teacup--in pelts of hair. Now he was working on a large-scale project that he refused to discuss with them except in snatches, but it involved the combing out and braiding together of many pieces in order to make one apparently endless rope of frizzing black hair. The previous Friday he had lured them over with the promise of pizza and beer to help him braid, but after many hours of tedious work, it became clear that there was no pizza and beer forthcoming, and they had left, a little irritated but not terribly surprised.

They were all bored with the hair project, although Jude--alone among them--thought that the pieces were lovely and would someday be considered significant. In thanks, JB had given Jude a hair-covered hairbrush, but then had reclaimed the gift when it looked like Ezra’s father’s friend might be interested in buying it (he didn’t, but JB never returned the hairbrush to Jude). The hair project had proved difficult in other ways as well; another evening, when the three of them had somehow been once again conned into going to Little Italy and combing out more hair, Malcolm had commented that the hair stank. Which it did: not of anything distasteful but simply the tangy metallic scent of unwashed scalp. But JB had thrown one of his mounting tantrums, and had called Malcolm a self-hating Negro and an Uncle Tom and a traitor to the race, and Malcolm, who very rarely angered but who angered over accusations like this, had dumped his wine into the nearest bag of hair and gotten up and stamped out. Jude had hurried, the best he could, after Malcolm, and Willem had stayed to handle JB. And although the two of them reconciled the next day, in the end Willem and Jude felt (unfairly, they knew) slightly angrier at Malcolm, since the next weekend they were back in Queens, walking from barbershop to barbershop, trying to replace the bag of hair that he had ruined.

“How’s life on the black planet?” Willem asked JB now.

“Black,” said JB, stuffing the plait he was untangling back into the bag. “Let’s go; I told Annika we’d be there at one thirty.” The phone on his desk began to ring.

“Don’t you want to get that?”

“They’ll call back.”

As they walked downtown, JB complained. So far, he had concentrated most of his seductive energies on a senior editor named Dean, whom they all called DeeAnn. They had been at a party, the three of them, held at one of the junior editor’s parents’ apartment in the Dakota, in which art-hung room bled into art-hung room. As JB talked with his coworkers in the kitchen, Malcolm and Willem had walked through the apartment together (Where had Jude been that night? Working, probably), looking at a series of Edward Burtynskys hanging in the guest bedroom, a suite of water towers by the Bechers mounted in four rows of five over the desk in the den, an enormous Gursky floating above the half bookcases in the library, and, in the master bedroom, an entire wall of Diane Arbuses, covering the space so thoroughly that only a few centimeters of blank wall remained at the top and bottom. They had been admiring a picture of two sweet-faced girls with Down syndrome playing for the camera in their too-tight, too-childish bathing suits, when Dean had approached them. He was a tall man, but he had a small, gophery, pockmarked face that made him appear feral and untrustworthy.

They introduced themselves, explained that they were here because they were JB’s friends. Dean told them that he was one of the senior editors at the magazine, and that he handled all the arts coverage.

“Ah,” Willem said, careful not to look at Malcolm, whom he did not trust not to react. JB had told them that he had targeted the arts editor as his potential mark; this must be him.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?” Dean asked them, waving a hand at the Arbuses.

“Never,” Willem said. “I love Diane Arbus.”

Dean stiffened, and his little features seemed to gather themselves into a knot in the center of his little face. “It’s DeeAnn.”


“DeeAnn. You pronounce her name ‘DeeAnn.’ ”

They had barely been able to get out of the room without laughing. “DeeAnn!” JB had said later, when they told him the story. “Christ! What a pretentious little shit.”

Customer Reviews

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A Little Life: A Novel 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 reviews.
fred55 More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book. It is not a light read. Yes, it is very good. Despite the length of this tome, it is a quick read. Do not, however, expect a light read. This book gets into the darkest places, emotionally. The main character is horribly abused and bares the scars (literally and figuratively) to prove it. It I had a complaint, it would that the author seems to go to great lengths to introduce gay characters into the book.Don't get me wrong. I am liberal on the subject. It just seems perfunctory and, at times, out of context. Another thing that I would say is that you have to really pay attention as you read. If you are a skimmer, you may get confused as the author does jump between characters and even times with little or no warning. Finally, if you are looking for a feel-good read, look elsewhere. This is heavy, emotional stuff.  
2bretired More than 1 year ago
Once I began reading A Little Life I was not sure if this was going to be for me - then it absolutely was. I found that I cared deeply for the people I encountered in this wonderful book. It is not an easy story to learn & Ms Yangihara reveals the drama so skillfully that the horrible things that happened caused me to want to protect the characters - not knowing how things would eventually evolve. Jude, Willem & Harold especially will both warm & break your heart (almost at the same time). I cannot recommend this novel enough.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a huge reader and this book is phenomenal. It is a study of 4 young men in NYC trying to find their way. This book is a heavy read and beautifully written. I will always remember this book and will be sure to read again . Hope author keeps writing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AMAZING AND WONDERFULLY WRITTEN One of the best books i have read in long time. I think about the characters when I am not reading the book. Very well written, almost impossible to put down. Your heart will break a hundred times during this book and you will want  everyone you know to read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some books are a good read but a year later difficult to recall. I just finished "A Little Life". It's too early to tell but I believe this one will stay with me for years to come. There is something about this book that pulls you along and even at 700+ pages I found it hard to put down. One criticism; an omission. How did Jude get from his horrific childhood into college where he begins his journey into adulthood? But he does, and the story of the four friends and the people in their lives is both thought provoking and heartbreaking. It was a world I don' t live in but it rang true and was a beautiful read.
Sebastian1 More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I've ever read.   I have read hundreds of books and this one will stay with me forever.  As a lover of dark emotional fiction, this one was remarkable.  There were may times when I cried, or had to put the book down.  My regret now is that it's over and I need to find another book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a powerful and amazing book! The writing is wonderful. The characters feel very real.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sections of A Little Life are hard to read. But it harder to put it down and stop reading the book. I believe this is a literary masterpiece the people will be discussing for years and years.
BrandieC More than 1 year ago
After the more than 4,000 reviews A Little Life has already received just on Goodreads, I'm not sure there's anything more to say, so, in the spirit of Bullet Journaling, here are my quick thoughts: • Gut-wrenching, so be sure to have a box of Kleenex at hand • Probably would have been better if it had been put on a diet and lost 300 or so pages before publication • Have your highlighter or notebook ready; Hanya Yanagihara can write! • I don't want Jude's life (well, maybe the money), but I would kill to have just one of his friends • On the flip side, makes you think about what kind of friend you are I received a free copy of A Little Life through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book doesn't really have much of a plot, so I'm not going to say much about it because chances are that you have already read some of the previous reviews. I had to skim over parts of this when reading about what happened to Jude, just to difficult to read. To be honest the whole dam book was depressing as he'll. Yes the the book will stay with me but it's like a rape of the senses and I for one would like to forget it. Yes the author writes extremely well and in spite of the length she did hold my attention, but I'll need to stick to easy reading for the next book or two or three or maybe four.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, emotional rollercoaster of a novel. Definitely worth the read. Thought provoking and heart wrenching at the same time, a love story masterfully designed in the most unique way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So absolutely and devastatingly heartbreaking and beautiful. Not a light read, but completely worth the time and effort. This one will haunt me for awhile.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an emotional ride...a ride that lets u experience love, care and affection, a ride that will make your heart ache, a ride that you will not easily forget. it was one the most beautiful books i have ever read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I lived and breathed each character. I felt as though I had made 4 new friends. I couldn't put the book down. In the end I felt myself uplifted and very sad. One of the best books about the human spirit I have ever read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was probably the most powerful and emotionly charged book I've ever read. Very difficult to read but so worth it. Had to put the book down multiple times and come back to it for fear of breaking down on an airplane full of passengers. Gut wrenching and beautiful at the same time. This is a book that I will never forget. If you're looking for a feel good book this book is not for you, but if you are looking for a book that will stay with you and make you weap, here you go.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The writing is stilted and confusing. Took me a while to figure out who all the characters were. And then the story just went nowhere. I'm not one to walk away from a book but just couldn't finish this one. Writing was too annoying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book. The writing was truly amazing. I actually started highlighting quotes in here that mean something to me, which is something I've never done before. This book certainly made me feel. But reader beware: it is not a light read. I think I cried for a good 10 minutes after I finished it. But it was worth it to have words make you feel so profoundly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't want to put the book down. I like the way the author writes and it truly holds your attention. Not a light read at all, so if you are looking for a feel good story, do NOT read this one.
bookworm86DM More than 1 year ago
I’m currently sitting and staring at my computer screen in complete and total exhaustion. My eyes sting from all the crying I did at the end of this book; and yes, a book can affect you that profoundly. A Little Life is one of the best books I have read…ever… and trust me when I say my reading list is vast. The characters are beautifully developed and alive. While you read their stories you are not someone who is looking in, but someone who is actively involved in their lives. Their triumphs and tragedies somehow become your own. This book takes you through the lives of four friends starting from their college years. We see how each one of them grows into themselves not only in the group, but also apart from the group. I do not want to give too much of this incredible book away. I do want to leave you with this… pick it up and let yourself get lost in the story. Do not let the bulkiness of it dissuade you, nor do the intense issues that arise prevent you from pushing through. You will not be disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such friendships defined so beautifully. Just hard sometimes to figure out who was speaking. I had to reread many chapters before I figured it out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
so amazed by the writing. i was totally engrossed in this book. as upsetting as it is to read, it is much harder to put down. the love in this story is unmatched in fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago