The Tiger's Wife

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Title: The Tiger's Wife
Author: Tea Obreht
Pages: 338
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.


Zibilee said...

I am also not sure if I would like, or actually get this book. It seems sort of all over the place and the fact that it is written with such great portent kind of turns me off. I don't like books where I have to try to be one step ahead of the author, thinking about what things really mean or if I am totally getting the message of the book. I loved that your review was so candid and that you were able to really engage us with your real reactions to the book. Thanks for your honesty.

Juju at Tales of said...

O I loved your review. This sounds good.

Jenny said...

Heather: Yeah there were times when nothing was confusing and the story was fairly interesting but then randomly she would say something where I thought what??


Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

I've only read one other review for this and it was favorable, not raving. I'm not always impressed by some of the "literary" gold that is hyped up on the lists.

You write a thoughtful, thorough review as always. I appreciate your honesty.

Did you decide if you are going to BEA yet?

Jenny said...

Michelle: I don't know... it's sort of looking like no for now though. =( I just don't see us having enough money by then. It's killing me though!!

Jenny said...

Michelle: I don't know... it's sort of looking like no for now though. =( I just don't see us having enough money by then. It's killing me though!!

Teralyn Rose Pilgrim said...

I didn't get the ending either, though I really wanted to because I loved it. If you still want to discuss the book with someone, I'd be thrilled. You can email me at teralynpilgrim at yahoo dot com.

Georgia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theophilus said...

I too found her writing beautiful, but was baffled when I got to the end and so much was left unresolved and unclear. Some insights here:

charmaine smith said...

Enjoyed the review! I am working on which books I will be reading for the Summer and this book will be on the list.

Charmaine Smith (Click Here)

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