Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht, a 25 year old, first time novelist, is one of the most anticipated books of 2011.  Ms. Obreht was included as one of the New Yorker's 20 Under 40 last spring without having published any novels or short story collections.  (Seems a bit like President Obama winning the Novel Peace Prize shortly after being elected to office.)  Talk about pressure. 

The Tiger's Wife justifies the pre-release attention Obreht garnered.  The novel is a stunning debut and is the launching point of a career to watch.  While the book is not perfect (I'm not sure of one that is), it is a sensuous read and worthy of staying up to read.

The story revolves around Natlia and her grandfather both before and after the disintegration of Yugoslavia (although the country is unnamed in the book).  Natlia's grandfather passes away far from home while Natlia, a doctor, is on a humanitarian mission to provide services to orphans.  Natlia tries to find answers about her grandfather's death while keeping secrets from her grandmother about what she knew and when she knew it. 

In parallel, Obreht takes us back to the grandfather's childhood in the 1940s.  During the war, a tiger escapes from the zoo and seemingly develops a relationship with a deaf-mute woman, who has abused by her butcher-husband.  During the grandfather's life, he meets the "deathless man," a symbol for death, who crosses paths with the grandfather and Natalia over the years.  The tiger's wife and the deathless man are fables that intersect with life and test the characters.

The first pages of the novel lulled me into thinking this would be a literary book that develops slowly.  Suddenly, Obreht throws in rapid action; and the novel unfolds.  My critiques, minor as they are: the book has multiple plot lines that have to be tracked carefully.  After the dramatic opening, the novel slows down a bit and takes a while for it to pick up again. 

Obreht's writing is rich and breathtaking. She juxtaposes beauty with devastation and companionship with loss. Obreht draws on her formative years in Belgrade and uses the novel to cope with her loss of her grandfather.  It is a magnificent work.

Read Obreht.  She deserves the accolades.  I would be surprised if this is not the winner of a prize or two this year.  The reviews have been deservedly glowing.

Other reviews: NYT, The Magic Lasso, The Devourer of Books (they all loved it).

1 comment:

  1. I love getting lost in books and this book did that all too well. I would recommend this book for people who are interested in other cultures and who like colliding timelines. Well written and very engaging. For more info…