Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
338 pages
Published March 2011 by George Weidenfeld & Nicholson
Source: bought it

In an unnamed Balkan country, Natalia and her best friend Zora, young doctors, are heading to an orphanage when Natalia learns of the mysterious death of her beloved grandfather. The mystery isn't so much that he died (Natalia has known for some time that he had cancer) but why he died where he died. As Natalia tries to make sense of what her grandfather was doing, she turns to the stories he told her as she was growing up when they made their weekly trips to visit the tigers at the zoo, stories of the deathless man. With mysteries surrounding her (who are the people digging in the vineyard behind the home she and Zora are staying in?), Natalia begins to piece together the greatest story of her grandfather's life, the story of the tiger's wife.
"Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories: the story of the tiger's wife, and the story of the deathless man. These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life...One, which I learned after his death, is the story of how my grandfather became a man; the other, which he told to me, is of how he became a child again."
Obreht picked me right up out of my family room and dropped me into that unknown Balkans country; I could envision myself in the car as Natalia drove along the coast in search of the town where her grandfather died, I felt a bit of panic imagining myself in the isolated valley where Natalia's grandfather grew up. I was particularly enchanted by the stories of the deathless man and the tiger's wife and eagerly read on to learn more about these characters and how they tied in to Natalia's grandfather. I was equally interested in the story of Natalia, a girl who grew up living in a country first on the cusp of war, then at war but in a way that doesn't directly affect her and then, finally, when war came to her city. Through all of this, Obreht contemplates death at all ages.
"But children die how they have been living - in hope. They don't know what's happening so they expect nothing, they don't ask you to hold their hand - but you end up needing them to hold yours. With children, you're on your own."
The story introduces a tremendous number of characters, giving the readers the back story for many of them. This gives the reader a well-rounded vision of the characters but it can become confusing. I can't imagine reading this book over a long period of time without taking notes to keep track of everything.

The Tiger's Wife was the Omaha Bookworms' September selection. Usually we try to read the Pulitzer Prize winner, but after one of our members read (and hated) Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad, we opted to go with the Orange Prize winner instead. We usually try to time our reads so that those who use the library have plenty of advance time to secure a copy and those who buy the books can get it in paperback. Unfortunately, we made our decision too late to get library copies for some people and the book which is only available in hardcover until November which meant that most of our members either didn't get to the book at all or had only managed to get to part of it by the time we met. Those of us who had read the book enjoyed talking about it but it's pretty hard to talk about a book when so many people are still planning to finish it!

No comments:

Post a Comment