Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rereading The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the 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.

I didn't think it was possible to love this book anymore on my second read, and yet I did. I was even more pulled into the story this time. The Tiger's Wife tells of a young doctor named Natalia, living in an unnamed Balkan country. Her grandfather, who she was very close to, dies mysteriously, and Natalia recollects her various memories of him, and the stories he would tell her. One of them is the story of the deathless man, a story that her grandfather told her when she was sixteen. And she discovers the story of the tiger's wife when she goes to her grandfather's old village to investigate. And then of course, there's her own story, in the present day, as she tries to unravel how her grandfather died. The way these three narratives were entwined was really wonderful. I would say The Tiger's Wife is magical realism, but as the Washington Post says, "That The Tiger's Wife never slips entirely into magical realism is part of its magic...It's graceful commingling of contemporary realism and village legend seems even more absorbing." Exactly. All three of the stories in the book are set during some sort of conflict in the Balkan countries (either the war with the Ottoman Empire in 1912-1913, or the more recent conflict.) But there is also something magical about both of the stories. At first glance, of course, the deathless man's story seems more fantastical (a man who can't die), but the story of the tiger's wife also has that feel to it. Some don't like the book because they think it doesn't have much of a plot or story-line. But first of all, I don't think in a book like this that that's so important; second of all, it does have a plot, it just alternates between the different stories.

And Obreht's writing is so descriptive, and also so imaginative. The quality of it just draws you in, intrigues you, grabs you, and mesmerizes you. The subtleness of it is really great too. You can read Mr. Gacek's review of it here. Apparently, Ms. Obreht is working on a new book now. I really look forwarding to reading it, though I don't know if she can surpass her first book.

Read The Tiger's Wife:
  • if you like magical realism
  • if you are interested in the Balkan conflicts
  • if you are interested in stories partly drawn from old myths/legends
  • if you are looking for an all-around wonderful and intriguing book
338 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

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