Book Recommendation: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
The Tiger’s Wife is set in an unnamed Balkan country, suffering from the wake of war and the loss of national identity. Natalia has recently lost her grandfather, who in addition to being a beloved paternal figure, was also her inspiration for becoming a physician. In the wake of his death, Natalia seeks out the truth behind the stories her grandfather told her, only to discover the stories he didn’t.
Natalia knew the story of the deathless man. Despite his insistent, rational disbelief, her grandfather shared the stories of his encounters with the deathless man as a gift to his granddaughter; Natalia understood that these stories were something to be treasured, something that they alone shared.
Pulled by the desire to learn more about her grandfather and the deathless man, Natalia visits the village where her grandfather grew up, a place she had never been. But, when she leaves the village, she leaves instead with the story she had never heard, the story of the tiger’s wife. The story of the tiger’s wife is a collaged tale filled in by everyone except the two main characters: the tiger’s wife and Natalia’s grandfather.
If you’re not looking for the sway of the words, for the subtle pull of a story that peels back its delicate layers before you, look elsewhere. I’ve read many complaints that The Tiger’s Wife moves slowly. Although objectively valid, I believe that those who make that argument are missing the delicate strings Obreht is pulling, creating a butterfly effect of minute movements that cascade together to create something entirely new. There are many plot points that are not spoken outright, but as long as you are listening, Obreht is telling you everything you need to know. She gives the reader all the pieces, but if you read this book at top speed, searching for the next point of action, you will miss the critical pauses where you are meant to savor the story’s subtle commingling of generations, the weave of fact with folklore, the ties of Natalia’s past and present with her grandfather’s.
This story has many threads, most of which are distorted by secondhand experience and infused with a hefty helping of superstition. Obreht handles her treatment of folklore beautifully, never quite committing to magical realism, but never fully dismissing it either.
This book is something to be enjoyed slowly, taking a bite at a time, teasing out the distinct flavors that have been expertly mixed. So, relax. Take this one at an unhurried pace. Let the stories unfold before you and decide for yourself what is real and what is something else.
Source: I bought this book from Myopic Books in Wicker Park.