- The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (March 8, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-0385343831
What the book is about (back-of-the-book blurb): In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.
What would I say to a friend who asked me about it: Oh, boy … sigh. I feel like I’m in the minority here, but this is one of those books where I just don’t get the hype. The Tiger’s Wife was a finalist for the National Book Award, a NYT bestseller, and selected as a ‘top 10 book of the year’ by dozens of publications and reviewers.
I liked it well enough – the writing is very strong, and the author is INCREDIBLY young (which is impressive!) – 25 when the book was published. In fact, I had first read Obreht’s work in 20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker, a collection of, well, 20 young writers (my thoughts, here).
The Tiger’s Wife read more like a collection of linked short stories than a novel, but, it has been forced into a container called “novel,” and it it didn’t work for me. Obreht’s goes off on marvelous tangents to explore characters and defining incidents (whether these are offshoots of true Balkan folk tales, or lore she has completely created, I’m not sure), but the return to the main story is choppy, and not fully integrated.
The novel begins in the early 2000s, as Natalia and a friend (and medical colleague) travel to inoculate children in a remote war-torn village. At a border checkpoint, she uses a pay phone to return a page from her grandmother. Natalia learns that her grandfather has taken ill and died while away from home; ostensibly visiting Natalia! Natalia’s grandmother accuses her of keeping secrets (true), and tells her that her grandfather’s belongings have disappeared from the hospital where the grandfather died.
Natalia continues to keep secrets – not sharing the news of her grandfather’s death with her friend, and scheming to discover not only what he was doing away from home, but also to find his personal belongings, which include that well-loved edition of The Jungle Book. Her quest leads her through a maze of folklore, tradition, and hearsay.
Having just ‘copy and paste’d the book’s synopsis (above), I have to say I’m stymied. I learned the stories of the tiger’s wife as I read the novel, and it never occurred to me that Natalia was also learning them for the first time. I have to decide if I have enough curiosity to look through the book to find the source of the stories; I’m not sure I do.
Why did I read it: I purchased a signed copy of The Tiger’s Wife when it was first published in March 2011, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to read it (this happens often with big ‘buzz’ books – I put them on the shelf until some of the hype has died down). I’m often reading pre-publication galleys, or reading ahead for author events; this summer, I made an effort to read some of the books that have been sitting on my shelves.
What else can I add: Have you read The Tiger’s Wife? If you “got it” more clearly than I did, please leave a link to your review/thoughts. I really admire Obreht’s imagination and the way she crafted the stories-within-the-story. Although this wasn’t a top pick for me, I’ll look forward to reading more of her work.