Title: The Tiger’s Wife
Author: Tea Obreht
Release Date: March 8, 2011
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Amazon Vine
Rating: 4 out of 5
Natalia Stefavoni is a doctor working in the Balkans, getting ready to set out for a dangerous humanitarian mission to an orphanage when she receives devastating news: her beloved grandfather has died. She begins to remember her grandfather, the stories and myths he shared with her – specifically, those of the tiger’s wife and the deathless man. When she realizes that the place he died isn’t far from the village she is visiting, Natalia decides to travel in search of answers to her grandfather’s death, as well as his life.
The Tiger’s Wife is one of those books that received so much pre-publication hype that it was almost impossible to go into it without some sort of expectations. Part of me didn’t want to read it quickly, just because I was afraid I was expecting it to be amazing, and it would fall short of that. But I decided to go ahead and pick it up, and the question is, did it live up to my expectations? The answer is that, even after reading it, I’m still not sure.
The Tiger’s Wife is so complex that it’s difficult to review it coherently. There are many different themes running through of it, all of which are worthy of discussion and analysis. There are three major storylines in the novel; the first, and the one the book keeps jumping back to, is Natalia’s medical work at the orphanage and the difficulties she encounters when trying to help those around her. The second is her grandfather’s childhood and the tiger’s wife, stories that Natalia’s grandfather shared with her. The final thread is the myth of the deathless man, a man that Natalia’s grandfather encountered multiple times over the course of his life, a man that could not die.
From that brief description, it becomes clear that myths and storytelling are an essential part of this novel. Much of Natalia’s relationship with her grandfather is based on the stories he shares with her. As the book progresses, the stories become less like myth and legend, and more based in the reality Natalia sees around her. As a result, the line between fiction and fact blurs; the magical realism seems to take over as these events become incorporated into history, rather than merely part of a story Natalia remembers hearing.
Similarly, there is also a tension between superstition and reality in this book, both in the past and Natalia’s present. The villagers choose to keep their faith in their superstitions, and it’s difficult for the reader to stomach when they will not face reason. These events are juxtaposed against the beautiful descriptions that readers will want to fall into; this starkness versus abundance makes for interesting storytelling.
The character development in The Tiger’s Wife is interesting, yet disappointing at times. The past seemed to be much more fleshed out than the present; Natalia was a vehicle to uncover the truth behind her grandfather’s stories, rather than a fully developed character of her own. As a result, there is little emotional connection to this story for the reader, and they must rely on the incredible descriptions, beautiful writing, and unique plot to draw them into the novel.
Tea Obreht’s writing is beautiful and clear. Her prose makes this novel easy to read, yet signals that it isn’t a book to be rushed through. Each word, each phrase matters to the overall book, and the reader must linger over each one in order to truly absorb the novel’s impact. Obreht writes with a confidence usually reserved for the most seasoned of writers. The fact that this is her first novel is remarkable, and it’s easy to see why so much hype has surrounded her.
I’ve rambled on for so many paragraphs, yet I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of this novel. It was incredibly well done, but it wasn’t perfect. One of my main reasons for reading the story, the mystery for which Natalia searches for answers, was a bit of a disappointment in the end. However, Tea Obreht has done something extraordinary with this novel, and I really am curious to see where she’ll go from here.