BOOK REVIEW: THE TIGER’S WIFE BY TÉA OBREHT

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THE TIGER’S WIFE BY TÉA OBREHT

WEIDENFIELD & NICHOLSON (HARDBACK), 2011

338 PAGES 

WWW.TEAOBREHT.COM 

This book is part of my Popsugar Reading Challenge 2015 (http://www.popsugar.com/love/Reading-Challenge-2015-36071458). The category for this book is ‘a book written by someone under 30’. 

I chose this book because I’ve wanted to read it for a while. It sounds interesting. I was delighted when I decided to do the challenge and discovered the author was under 30 when the novel was published. 

BLURB FROM THE COVER

Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation.

In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.

But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.

Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weeklytrips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for. 

EXTRACT 

In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as stone and he takes me to see tigers. He puts on his hat, his big-buttoned raincoat, and I wear my lacquered shoes and velvet dress. It is autumn, and I am four years old. The certainty of this process: my grandfather’s hand, the bright hiss of the trolley, the dampness of the morning, the crowded walk up the hill to the citadel park. Always in my grandfather’s breast pocket: The Jungle Book, with its gold-leaf cover and old yellow pages. I am not allowed to hold it, but it will stay open on his knee all afternoon while he recites the passages to me. Even though my grandfather is not wearing his stethoscope or white coat, the lady at the ticket counter in the entrance shed calls him ‘Doctor’.

REVIEW 

This is my first time reading Tea Obreht.

I really enjoyed The Tiger’s Wife. The novel turned out to be very different than I expected. Based on the title of the novel and the way it has been marked I thought it would be a blend of magic realism, myth and fantasy and it’s really not. The Tiger’s Wife is more about how stories are passed down from generation to generation and how legends are made. I did enjoy it once I realised it wasn’t going to be what I expected. I liked Obreht’s writing style and was impressed by her style and skill considering she was in her late twenties when this was published. I really liked the way the narrative moves back and forth between current events with Natalia learning about her grandfather’s death, her memories of him growing up and events from her grandfather’s past with the strange deaf-mute woman, a battered wife who became known as ‘the tiger’s wife’. I liked the way the different plot lines all came together. The Tiger’s Wife is very enjoyable but don’t read it if you think it’s going to be some sort of fantasy or magic realism novel.

RATING

4 STAR RATING

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