Title: The Tiger's Wife
Author: Tea Obreht
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: March 8, 2011
The Tiger's Wife was a highly anticipated book in the publishing industry largely due to the talented author, Tea Obreht, who made it on The New Yorker's list of top 20 writers under 40. (She's only 25!!) Though her work has appeared in various publications, this is her debut novel for which she's received acclaim.
Unfortunately, for me, while I can appreciate the author's literary talent, the experience of reading this book brought me back to the days of reading classics in high school. I know it's good and well-received. All the big honchos in the literary world love it. Yet, I ultimately fail to grasp the full meaning behind it. I feel it hovering around me, but can't quite put it all together. There were parts of the book that somewhat captivated me, but these parts alternated with sprawling descriptions and tangents from which I fell away, lost interest. And though I say I didn't get some of it, I did feel that I understood most of it up until the end, which I didn't get, and at which point I realized maybe I hadn't, in fact, understood anything.
The Tiger's Wife is a novel steeped in superstitions, rituals, and stories passed on through generations and has the theme of death coursing throughout. Natalia and her friend, Zora, both doctors, are traveling to an orphanage in Brejevina (somewhere in the Balkan peninsula) to provide the children with much needed medication. After being paged about eight times by her grandmother, Natalia stops at a pay phone to call and learns that her grandfather has passed away. Natalia knew her grandfather was sick, but at his request, kept this secret from the family. The grandfather, meanwhile, had told his wife and daughter that he was on his way to meet up with Natalia. She was unaware of an impending visit and had never even heard of the city, Zdrevkov, where her grandfather spent his last days.
Throughout the book, Natalia reflects back to the stories her grandfather told her about growing up. As a young girl, she and her grandfather made weekly trips to the zoo to watch the tigers. The grandfather would read to Natalie from The Jungle Book which he always kept in his shirt pocket. Though we learn a lot about the grandfather's past and the village where he grew up, a large focus is on that of "the deathless man" and of "the tiger's wife" which aren't so much stories but actual moments from his past. What I'm told, (through plot synopses by the publisher) is that through reflecting back on these stories, Natalia learns more about her grandfather and the secrets he kept.
I will say that when I started writing this review, I had no clue what the ending was supposed to signify about anything. But during the process of writing this I literally had an "ah-ha" moment of insight about the end and how that tied in to the story overall, though I still don't know what the tiger's wife had to do with it. I would actually really like to discuss this book with others because I think it may contribute a lot to my understanding which would lead me to appreciate it that much more.
Overall, The Tiger's Wife had some beautifully written passages and was an atmospheric story that reflected on the themes of death and superstitions, but I wouldn't necessarily consider it accessible to the casual reader.