Title: The Tiger’s Wife
Reading level: Adult
Genre: Literary Fiction
Size: 338 pages
Release Date: March 8th 2012
Publisher: Random House
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: Publisher via Netgalley and Public library
First Line: “In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers.”
Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living (and, in between suspensions, practicing) in an unnamed country that’s a ringer for Obreht’s native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about the death of her beloved grandfather, who raised her on tales from the village he grew up in, and where, following German bombardment in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo in a nearby city and befriended a mysterious deaf-mute woman. The evolving story of the tiger’s wife, as the deaf-mute becomes known, forms one of three strands that sustain the novel, the other two being Natalia’s efforts to care for orphans and a wayward family who, to lift a curse, are searching for the bones of a long-dead relative; and several of her grandfather’s stories about Gavran Gailé, the deathless man, whose appearances coincide with catastrophe and who may hold the key to all the stories that ensnare Natalia.
This book was a fascinating, if at times confusing, read. Tea Obreht pulled in so many varying time lines and characters, stories and cultural elements…in addition to the representations of current day to day life in the Balkans…that it was a bit overwhelming and slowed the pace of the novel too much at points. Ironically though, it is also that richness which absolutely loved about the book. I can definitely see shades of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in her writing style and loved the way she wove together the strands of this tale.
Her writing is beautifully lyrical and captivated me from the first page. The main character is ostensibly Natalia…but it is really her grandfather’s stories of both the Tiger’s wife and the Deathless man that meander through the novel and in some ways not only define him…but Natalia as well. They also set the parameters for our understanding of their understanding of death as it were…which between the war, poverty and disease was no stranger in the Balkans at this time.
Though I never completely invested in the characters, I loved how we got to know them through the lens of their own self interpretations…through the lens of their own storytelling. For isn’t it true that we generally share those bits of ourselves that we feel in some way inform who we actually are?? (That seems to be even more true in small village setting like that in which the grandfather grew up.) Natalia is desperate to know her grandfather better…to put the jigsaw stories and pieces of his life together so she can find some sort of understanding of him, his views and hopefully make peace with his death.
This book really does have a little of every thing: Fable or Fantasy? Tradition or Superstition? Symbolism or Reality?
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