Title: The Tiger’s Wife Author: Téa Obreht Publication Date: March 8, 2011 Publisher: Random House Format: Hardcover 352 pages Genre: literary fiction
Rating: This one is beyond a rating, it’s that good!
Synopsis: In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself. But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel. Grief stricken and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weekly trips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.
Acquisition: I originally bought this on my NOOK, then went back for the Hardcover. It’s a keeper!
The Nashville Connection: This book was recommended to The Nashville Reader by local poet, Bill Brown. He called it, “One of the strongest books he had read in years”. Mr. Brown is a master of words and whitewater who has generously taught literate Nashvillians at Hume-Fogg Academic High School and Peabody College. He was the Tennessee Writer’s Alliance 2011 Writer of the Year. His latest collection of poetry is called The News Inside, Iris press, 2010.
Review: This book is a classic never-ending story, the perfect bedtime novel for those of us who grew up with Atreyu, and miss him oh so much. Natalia is a character who will literally sink into the earth in whatever motley company happens to be nearby, meanwhile trying to save them as her grandfather saved her. He welcomed his daughter and her daughter back into his house, and gave them life experiences they would never have had on their own. The world also presented a unique set of circumstances for Natalia in that her childhood was largely shaped by the Serbian wars. Her need for stability seems palpable as she clings to memories of her grandfather. His own life was an enigma to Natalia, who in a search for something to stand for, something to hold on to, tracks down her grandfather’s story with an investigative verve that borders on the tragically obsessive. She follows orphans, ghosts and strange women deep into the history of her grandfather, which she seems to hold as our own history. It is a beautiful story of family, redemption and the search for oneself in relation to both of those. It is definitely for readers with empathy, imagination and a tolerance for protagonists in limbo. If you can manage it’s literary twists and turns, you will find the magic at the end of Natalia’s yellow-brick road.
Notable and Quotable: “Always in my grandfather’s breast pocket: The Jungle Book, with its gold-leaf cover and old yellow pages. I am not allowed to hold it, but it will stay open on his knee all afternoon while he recites passages to me.”
“There was something determined about the way the blue paint clung to the shutters and the door and the broken crate full of lavender that was leaning against the side of the house.”
“The tiger is her husband. He comes into her house each night and takes off his skin. That apothecary–he knows, but he will not tell you this.”
“He was digging: slowly, methodically, with both hands…Are you the deathless man? Are you?”