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The Tiger's Wife: Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction and New York Times bestseller

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Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation. In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation. 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 struck 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 weeklytrips 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.


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Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation. In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation. 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 struck 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 weeklytrips 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.

30 review for The Tiger's Wife: Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction and New York Times bestseller

  1. 5 out of 5

    Fergie

    I'm probably one of the few people who didn't "get" this book. While I give credit to Tea Obreht for her ingenuity and creativity with the story, I felt at times frustrated by the pace of the the book and the way it wound through the fantastical tales which I found more distracting than entertaining or enlightening in its detour from the main story. I kept wanting to care about the main character, Natalia, and the relationship she shared with her grandfather but felt Obreht kept me hanging and d I'm probably one of the few people who didn't "get" this book. While I give credit to Tea Obreht for her ingenuity and creativity with the story, I felt at times frustrated by the pace of the the book and the way it wound through the fantastical tales which I found more distracting than entertaining or enlightening in its detour from the main story. I kept wanting to care about the main character, Natalia, and the relationship she shared with her grandfather but felt Obreht kept me hanging and disappointed. It seems the book began with the promise that there would be resolution and understanding but the way Obreht went about it -- through outlandish stories told by the grandfather about other people, seemed, in the end, to me frustrating. I kept wanting to like the book but never discovered the pull necessary to keep me wanting to read more. At times, I felt that I was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another author who, like Obreht, does not write for readers like me. I'm sure there is a reason the book is so esteemed and widely read but, ultimately, I am comfortable saying that I didn't quite get the appeal.

  2. 4 out of 5

    P-eggy

    5 stars for hype 4 stars for beautiful writing 3 stars for interesting folk stories 2 stars for plot 1 star for meaning 5 stars. Hype. I'm in the book trade - I have a book shop. I know that all these magazines from the distributors and the newsletters from the book sites that purport to introduce us in an unbiased way to new releases are ttotally fake. Every single one of those books is paid-for advertising. And a lot of money was spent on hyping this book up. 4 stars. Beautiful writing. Luminous eve 5 stars for hype 4 stars for beautiful writing 3 stars for interesting folk stories 2 stars for plot 1 star for meaning 5 stars. Hype. I'm in the book trade - I have a book shop. I know that all these magazines from the distributors and the newsletters from the book sites that purport to introduce us in an unbiased way to new releases are ttotally fake. Every single one of those books is paid-for advertising. And a lot of money was spent on hyping this book up. 4 stars. Beautiful writing. Luminous even. Obreht has a way with words that mostly stays in the realm of readable literature and only occasionally strays into the boringly poetic descriptions of place and landscape that the eye skims over. 3 stars. Folk stories. There are two main stories in the book. The story of the deathless man is most interesting because it is about a person, mythical or not, and people tend to be interested in reading about other people with personalities. The second story, that of the tiger and the deaf-mute woman nicknamed its wife is less so. But it is actually based on the story of a tiger that did escape the zoo in the war and haunted the hills above the town. 2 stars. Plot. What plot? The protagonist wants to find out why her dying doctor grandfather chose this place to die and why he died alone. That is the loose plot that hangs together the folk stories that the grandfather told his granddaughter. 1 star. Meaning. The ending didn't really explain anything. Others have understood it, have seen meaning in it maybe, but not me. It was a let down. 5+4+3+2+1=15 15/5=3 3 stars, just OK.

  3. 4 out of 5

    TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez

    Civil war in the Balkans has left that region bereft and in need. It is in this fascinating region that Téa Obreht sets her elegantly written debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife. While the protagonist of The Tiger’s Wife is Natalia Stefanovic, a young doctor who has returned to her homeland to help the villagers, the central mystery of the book revolves around Natalia’s beloved grandfather as Natalia seeks to reconstruct his final days and his death in a village named Zdrevkov, far from his home. Althou Civil war in the Balkans has left that region bereft and in need. It is in this fascinating region that Téa Obreht sets her elegantly written debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife. While the protagonist of The Tiger’s Wife is Natalia Stefanovic, a young doctor who has returned to her homeland to help the villagers, the central mystery of the book revolves around Natalia’s beloved grandfather as Natalia seeks to reconstruct his final days and his death in a village named Zdrevkov, far from his home. Although Natalia’s search for the rhyme and reason behind her grandfather’s actions seems pretty straightforward, Obreht twines two folktales/legends around the central story, and in their telling writes a “story about stories.” And, even though Natalia is the protagonist of The Tiger’s Wife, it’s her wise, sweet grandfather who takes center stage, or at least he should. Natalia’s grandfather lives in the City, a city that can only be Belgrade, but this is a book of fiction, and I really didn’t care if Obreht named the city or not. In fact, just calling it “the City” was more in keeping with the folktales and myths that make up a great part of this book. Natalia’s grandfather, who is also a physician, is also inordinately fond of animals, especially tigers. When Natalia was a child, he often took her to visit the zoo and carried a tattered and torn copy of Kipling’s The Jungle Book with him everywhere. He is never without it. It is from her grandfather that Natalia, who seems to be a stand-in for the author, has come to love tigers, herself. When she learns of her beloved grandfather’s death, she’s at a pay phone in a gas station at the border of an Eastern European country, which she and her best friend, Zora, are about to enter in order to deliver vaccines to an orphanage sorely in need. Although her grandmother begs her to abandon her journey to the orphanage and come directly home, Natalia continues on, determined, not only to bring back her grandfather’s possessions, which are secured in a blue pouch Natalia must not, under any conditions, open, but also to discover why the grandfather she thought she knew so well went off to die alone. During the war, Natalia’s grandfather tried his best to pretend that nothing had changed even though doctors over fifty years of age, like himself, were suspected of “loyalist feelings toward the unified state” and thus suspended from the practice of medicine. Natalia’s grandfather defied the law, and he continued to see patients in secret. However, what disrupted his life more than his inability to practice medicine was the closing of the city zoo. After the government closes the zoo, Natalia’s grandfather can no longer indulge in his favorite weekly routing of visiting the tigers. One of the folktales that twines around the main storyline is one Natalia’s grandfather told her and revolves around the “deathless man,” Gavran Gailé, the nephew of Death, who defied and cheated Death by sparing a lover's life. Condemned forever, Gailé must spend eternity scouring the earth and gathering in souls. For that reason, he travels with wars and epidemics, and has been cursed with agelessness, something many people think they would enjoy. Gailé, however, is quick to set the record straight. “Dying is not punishment,” he tells the grandfather. “The dead are loved. They give something to the living. Once you put something into the ground, Doctor, you always know where to find it.” The other folktale is really a fable and takes place during World War II in the very village where Natalia’s grandfather grew up. After the Germans bombed the City in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo and took refuge in the mountains above the grandfather’s village. Almost everyone feared the tiger greatly, as well they should. All, that is, but the deaf-mute wife of the abusive local butcher, who has mysteriously disappeared. The townspeople believed his wife might have killed him, and they also believed this same wife fed and cared for the tiger. Because of this, they began calling her “the tiger’s wife.” The other person who loved and revered the tiger was a small boy, a small boy who would grow up to be Natalia’s grandfather. Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories,” Naralia says, “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 — of my grandfather’s days in the army; his great love for my grandmother; the years he spent as a surgeon and a tyrant of the University. I believed Natalia, but understanding her grandfather proved to be no easy task for this reader as the two folktales really tell us very little about the boy/man who was Natalia’s grandfather. Even after reading the two folktales, I still didn’t quite understand why Natalia’s grandfather loved tigers so, or why he always carried a copy of The Jungle Book in his pocket. But, I really wanted to understand. Natalia may be our protagonist in this book, but her grandfather is the book’s very heart and soul. If the book seems to be obsessed with death and with how people come to terms with death, it is. It is also about the responsibilities the living owe the dead, and what has the power to live on, if not individually, then in the collective imagination. As Natalia and Zora continue with their medical mission to the orphanage, they come into contact with a family who is searching for the body of a hastily buried relative, one buried in a vineyard during the war, and one the family has now come to retrieve. The man’s displacement is literally making the children of the family sick. The family wants to rebury the man, so that they, and he, have peace. Obreht’s words will cause some readers to shiver as Natalia and the others locate the dead man’s bones and begin to wash them. Obreht writes: ...the cracked dome of the skull, wiping down the empty sockets and the crooked lines between the teeth. Then they were breaking the thighbones, sawing through them with a cleaver so that the body could not walk in death to bring sickness to the living.... It is Natalia, however, the non-believer, who buries the man’s heart at a crossroads, thus releasing at last the soul of the dead man and bringing peace to both him and his family. Despite all the myth and folktale, to Obreht’s credit, she never loses sight of the more mundane world in which her characters live their everyday lives: Green shutters, a greenish flower...a stone canal ran up past the campground. Boxes in the windows, here and there a garage with a tarped car and maybe some chickens huddled on the hood. There were wheelbarrows full patching bricks or cement or manure…of laundry lines hung from house to house, heavy with sheets and headless shirts, pegged rows of socks. A soft-muzzled, black donkey was breathing softly, tied to a tree in someone's front yard. I liked the rather gloomy premise of this novel, I loved Obreht’s gorgeous writing, and even though I’m not a fan of myths, folktales, or fairy tales, I did like the three story strands (Natalia, the “tiger’s wife” and the “deathless man”) that make up this book. I loved the sense of place the author managed to evoke. I really felt like I was in the Balkans while reading this beautiful book. Still, I felt the book had some problems. I suppose what bothered me most about The Tiger’s Wife was the fact the Natalia’s grandfather remained little more than a cipher in the book, yet, for me at least, he was the character around whom everything else revolved. Both Natalia and her grandfather seemed, in the end, to be little more than vehicles through which to tell the story of the “tiger’s wife” and the story of the “deathless man.” Those two folk stories are wonderful stories, pulsing with dark life, but it’s the grandfather who anchors the book; it’s the grandfather I wanted to know more about; it’s the grandfather we learn so little about. Yes, I realize that we turn to stories and folktales and fables in times of crises “to find meaning, to stitch together unconnected events in order to understand what was happening,” but I wanted to understand what was happening to Natalia and most especially, to Natalia’s grandfather. For me, Obreht didn’t use the two folktales to “stitch together” the life of the fascinating character that was Natalia’s grandfather. Maybe Obreht is telling us that she believes that even those we love the most remain unknowable. I’m not sure. I just felt it was wrong to set us up for something and then leave us hanging, for we never learn why Natalia’s grandfather has such love and passion for tigers just as we never learn why he clings to his old, battered copy of Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Not getting to know the grandfather left me feeling I’d read a gorgeously written book, but one whose emotional center was missing. In The Tiger’s Wife, sadly, the parts are greater than the whole. The three story strands never come together to form one beautiful, and emotionally moving, story. In the end, they remain three disparate story strands. They leave the reader with the sense of having read something beautiful, but also something rather pointless. The book also loses momentum, even before we reach mid-point. I didn’t feel this was because the author was juggling three separate story strands – she seems to juggle separate story strands without trouble – but because the two folktales never seem to mesh well enough with the story of Natalia and her grandfather. It’s Natalia’s grandfather, himself, who tells us, after he and his granddaughter have just witnessed an elephant wandering the streets of the City, that moments are meant to be cherished, that: You have to think carefully about where you tell it and to whom. Who deserves to hear it? Maybe, I wondered, Obreht felt that her readers were not worthy of hearing Natalia’s grandfather’s story in full. Maybe she felt we were only worthy of knowing Natalia’s grandfather obliquely, though the stories of the “tiger’s wife” and the “deathless man.” If that’s the case, then I feel bad, not for me, but for Natalia’s grandfather, for he seemed to be a man whose spirit was generous to a fault, a man who would want his story to be told and to live on. And that is the big failing of this book. Obreht is, in many ways, a marvelous writer, even a luminous one. But in the end, people are interested in people. Though the folktales were interesting, without the character of the grandfather, they ring hollow. While the grandfather remained in the background, and the folktales took center stage, it should have been the other way around. Yes, The Tiger’s Wife is filled with beautiful writing, and it is “art,” but this reader wanted a little less art and a lot more humanity. 3/5 Recommended: The book gives us a beautiful sense of place, and at times, the prose is so good it’s luminous. The book is definitely “arty,” but I wanted a little less art and a lot more humanity. The three stars are for the beautiful evocation of place and atmosphere, and for the lovely writing. Sadly, the story told, as is, is only worth one star to me. You may be different, but I needed more of the grandfather. I do feel Obreht has a very bright future, and I’m looking forward to more from her. It’s rare to find such sophisticated writing in one still so young. Read my reviews and writing tips on literarycornercafe.blogspot.com.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    While praising Obreht for writing with great lyrical force, some have criticized her for writing a disjointed novel. I disagree. Her novel's central question asks, "How do people respond to death?" The setting is the Balkans, an area with complex histories and cultures -- all wrestling with death in one form or another: death from disease, from poverty and from violence both small within the walls of a family's home or large-scale as with air raid bombing. Death stalks the people of the Balkans While praising Obreht for writing with great lyrical force, some have criticized her for writing a disjointed novel. I disagree. Her novel's central question asks, "How do people respond to death?" The setting is the Balkans, an area with complex histories and cultures -- all wrestling with death in one form or another: death from disease, from poverty and from violence both small within the walls of a family's home or large-scale as with air raid bombing. Death stalks the people of the Balkans like a tiger -- demonstrating its inherent brutality, grace, and stealth. Her characters respond to death in various ways, both literal and symbolic. We respond in a logical, scientific way as do three characters who are physicians. We respond by hunting down death as do a handful of characters. We respond as butchers. As magicians. As ghosts. As artists. As death's lover. As storytellers. The novel contains a host of characters who symbolize these various responses to death, but it's organized around Natalia and her grandfather, who are both doctors. Her grandfather adopts more than one response to death through his love of stories as indicated by his well-worn copy of The Jungle Book--which notably features a tiger. Even in the present-day, Natalia hears stories from the locals whom she treats, tales that are a mix of old and new, a mix of fact and fiction. I had to read The Tiger's Wife slowly and with great attention, or it sprang at me with shocking surprises--about the particulars of life in the Balkans and about the universal responses we have to death. Like the tiger that serves as the central symbol, Obreht has created a mesmerizing novel filled with horrible, beautiful force.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Duality The Tiger’s Wife is an ambitious book of depth and meaning that draws links between a troubled aftermath in a war-torn region with the backdrop of superstition and myths. There is a theme adopted throughout the book that opposing positions are regularly confronted, such as modern technology and medicine, with fables and folklore. This confrontation also relates to the novel’s location which is within former Yugoslavia but with families now spread across two unspecified countries where bor Duality The Tiger’s Wife is an ambitious book of depth and meaning that draws links between a troubled aftermath in a war-torn region with the backdrop of superstition and myths. There is a theme adopted throughout the book that opposing positions are regularly confronted, such as modern technology and medicine, with fables and folklore. This confrontation also relates to the novel’s location which is within former Yugoslavia but with families now spread across two unspecified countries where borders have been defined with bloodshed. Natalia is a young doctor visiting the region on a humanitarian mission to establish a clinic at an orphanage and inoculate the children. She faces the task of administering modern antibiotics to the children while the adult villagers are preoccupied digging over a field, seeking the bones of a relation buried 12 years earlier. Rather than being reassured with medical treatment, they feel they need to focus on collecting all the bones to ceremoniously bury the body so the illnesses that have befallen their village can be lifted. Natalia is soon informed of her Grandfather’s death and her memories of him as a doctor and the stories he regaled her with, come to the fore. She sees the dichotomy of a man of medicine with a belief in fables as she holds onto his cherished copy of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. “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 me, is of how he became a child again.” The background to the stories is told at different time periods and the grandfather's connection with them is fascinating and thought-provoking. The deathless man was the nephew of death himself, who came to heal but ended up carrying the souls of the dead to the other side. A story that possibly resonated with his medical profession and the contrast is once again evident to see, between healing and death. The other tale tells of an escaped tiger where after months of roaming the countryside took refuge just outside the little village of Galina. Sometimes coming closer but mainly staying out of reach. The butcher of Galina, Luka, had a wife who was known as “the deaf-mute girl,” a wife he subjected to regular vicious beatings. After Luka died from what is believed to have been tiger attack, his wife became known as “the tiger’s wife” because she frequented the barn where the tiger was seen. When she is identified as being pregnant, the villagers claim that she’s carrying the tiger’s baby. Natalia’s grandfather, as a young boy, knows the tiger’s wife and is the only villager unafraid of the tiger but he has a secret that he maintains from everyone. He sees the manifestation of Shere Khan from The Jungle Book and his imagination like many of the villagers is set to proffer another myth. The novel is unique and wonderfully delivered with exceptional story-telling from Téa Obreht. It achieved a wonderful balance of interfacing religion, culture, new and old, reality and superstition, war and peace, destruction and rebuilding, contemporary medicine and traditional healing. A story where the reader can interpret the meaning as they wish and project deeper meaning into the two fables. I would highly recommend reading this book and I feel it is a worthy prize-winner.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    The Tiger's Wife, Téa Obreht The Tiger's Wife is the debut novel of Serbian-American writer Téa Obreht. It was published in 2011 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, a British imprint of Orion Books, and by Random House in America. The Tiger's Wife is set in an unnamed Balkan country, spanning the mid 20th-century to the early 21st century. It features a young doctor's relationship with her grandfather and the stories he tells her, primarily about the 'deathless man' who meets him several times in diffe The Tiger's Wife, Téa Obreht The Tiger's Wife is the debut novel of Serbian-American writer Téa Obreht. It was published in 2011 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, a British imprint of Orion Books, and by Random House in America. The Tiger's Wife is set in an unnamed Balkan country, spanning the mid 20th-century to the early 21st century. It features a young doctor's relationship with her grandfather and the stories he tells her, primarily about the 'deathless man' who meets him several times in different places and never changes, and a deaf-mute girl from his childhood village who befriends a tiger that has escaped from a zoo. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و هشتم ماه ژانویه سال 2016 میلادی عنوان: همسر ببر؛ نویسنده: تئا آب رت؛ مترجم: علی قانع؛ تهران، آموت، 1391، در 365 ص؛ شابک: 9786005941807؛ چاپ دوم 1392؛ چاپ سوم 1394؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان امریکایی سده 21 م ناتالیا، پزشک جوان در بالکان، پس از مرگ پدربزرگ محبوبش، وارد ماجراهایی می‌شود، که سراسر جادوست. در این جستجوها، به نسخه ی کهن «کتاب جنگل»‌ می‌رسد، که همیشه همراه پدربزرگش بود، و طی‌ سال‌های گذشته، بارها داستان‌هایش را برایش خوانده بود؛ داستان مرد فناناپذیر و داستان‌های دیگر. در بین همه ی آن‌ها داستانی ست، که پدربزرگش هرگز برایش تعریف نکرده‌ بود؛ داستان ِ افسانه ی همسر ببر ...؛ رئالیسم جادویی البته به باور منتقدان، این نویسنده بنیانگذار نوعی رئالیسم جادویی نو هستند. ا. شربیانی

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    I think it's interesting to look at the literature coming out now that has to do with building a mythology. Is it because of the incredible works of people like Angela Carter, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Italo Calvino and others who have influenced so strongly this generation? Or is it that as we become increasingly godless and mythless, there is something to the human that needs the myth to survive. I am reminded by the knitting and food preserving revolutions that have exploded, something that use I think it's interesting to look at the literature coming out now that has to do with building a mythology. Is it because of the incredible works of people like Angela Carter, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Italo Calvino and others who have influenced so strongly this generation? Or is it that as we become increasingly godless and mythless, there is something to the human that needs the myth to survive. I am reminded by the knitting and food preserving revolutions that have exploded, something that used to be what our grandmothers did that a generation took back from parents who left it behind when microwaves and machines made the practices unpractical. Novels like this seem to be a rebellion to the John Updikes and Raymond Carvers of literature. So many of the first novels coming out now are filled with ghosts and dybbuks that it's hard to imagine that graduate students won't have many theses to write about this subject. I happen to love the myth-making, but then I am a part of this generation. The myths here are generated from a grandfather to his granddaughter. Obreht handles the transition from belief expertly. In the end, there isn't anything resolute to make a judgement on the validity to the grandfather's stories, but the heroes of the book are the ones who, with compassion, allow the myths to prevail, even if they aren't myths at all but the science of the afterlife.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I cannot recommend this book. I have given it only two stars. I am almost thinking of giving this one star. I will be very specific in listing what disturbed me. Let me mention immediately that those readers who enjoy fantasy novels will enjoy this more than I did. The events are so fantastical that I cannot classify this as a book of magical realism, but rather fantasy! I love magical realism, but dislike fantasy. The themes covered are war, Balkan myths, death and man’s relationship to animals I cannot recommend this book. I have given it only two stars. I am almost thinking of giving this one star. I will be very specific in listing what disturbed me. Let me mention immediately that those readers who enjoy fantasy novels will enjoy this more than I did. The events are so fantastical that I cannot classify this as a book of magical realism, but rather fantasy! I love magical realism, but dislike fantasy. The themes covered are war, Balkan myths, death and man’s relationship to animals. I feel the author, Téa Obreht, is too ambiguous. What is she trying to say? I do not want messages hammered into me, but in this novel you can think whatever you damn well please. In addition, Téa Obreht shocks the reader with gruesome events. Once again, I am not averse to books that expose horrible behavior or horrendous crimes of humanity, if there is a point to be made, if there is a lesson to be learned. Here I felt the prime goal was simply to shock. There are many gruesome events involving animals. You have been warned! I am not going to give you an excerpt. Some passages are utterly revolting. Animals eating themselves: was this necessary? If this did happen during the war, I want a note to anchor it to reality. The author chose to not use real names of cities in the Balkans, although one can guess that it takes place at the Croatian / Bosnian border or perhaps Belgrade, Serbia. Anyone would assume this is because she wants to express the universality of war’s horrors. Is that such a profound idea? Couldn’t the author have been a teeny bit more explicit? I found the author’s view expressed in an interview. The plot concerns the relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter. Both are doctors. At the beginning of the novel the grandfather dies. The book’s central plot line is the granddaughter’s search to understand the missing links in her grandfather’s life, to better understand who he was. This is done by flipping to the past. Past events are told as stories that have a fantastical character. Two primary stories concern a man that never dies and a woman who feeds a tiger escaped from the town’s closed zoo. I found it disorienting to constantly be flipping between different time periods and stories. The strange stories were long and detailed. The characters acted in ways beyond my comprehension, and I felt there was too much extraneous information. Is this another way of saying that I was not captivated by these stories? While the villagers of Galina are reluctant to talk about the tiger and his wife, they will never hesitate to tell you stories of one of the lateral participants in their story. (page 239) That was a nasty kick from me. Even the author herself states that “lateral participants” are depicted! And what a peculiar choice of words: lateral participants! I see them as minor, unimportant characters and I certainly do not have to know everything that has ever happened to them. Better editing, please. Or if I am kind, let me just say that I personally could not feel empathy for them. .Perhaps one mist enjoy books of fantasy to enjoy this novel. So what did I like in this book? Some lines beautifully describe a place. You see the landscapes. The author is great with coloring in the nuances. Natalia (the granddaughter) will travel to Brjevina, where her grandfather died: It was a small seaside village forty kilometers east of the new border. We drove through red-roofed villages that clung to the lip of the sea, past churches and horse pastures, past steep plains bright with purple bellflowers, past sunlit waterfalls that thrust out of the sheer rock-face above the road. Ever so often we entered woodland, high pine forests dotted with olives and cypresses, the sea flashing like a knife where the forest fell away down the slope. (page 17) I have driven along the Croatian coastline. This was a perfect description of what I saw. And then there is a dog called Bis. I loved what he did. This too made me appreciate the book. So maybe, if you like fantasy novels, you might have less trouble with this than I did……. For the reasons listed above, I cannot recommend it. I haven’t even gotten into a discussion of what the book supposedly has to say about death! IMO, nothing all that profound.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Crocker

    One of those books that casts a spell from which you emerge so reluctantly after the last word. The cycles of death and rebirth, superstition and truth, love and revenge weave through the legends and family stories of the Balkans and the quests of two doctors, a modern young woman and her beloved grandfather. "When your fight has purpose--to free you from something, to interfere on behalf of the innocent--it has the hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling-- when it is about your nam One of those books that casts a spell from which you emerge so reluctantly after the last word. The cycles of death and rebirth, superstition and truth, love and revenge weave through the legends and family stories of the Balkans and the quests of two doctors, a modern young woman and her beloved grandfather. "When your fight has purpose--to free you from something, to interfere on behalf of the innocent--it has the hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling-- when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event--there is nothing but that, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it." p.283

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sandra K.

    I was born in Belgrade a few years before the author and (unlike her) lived there until college graduation, throughout the wars and crises of the 1990s. I was hoping that this book could tell some authentic stories about my generation and my homeland, but after reading it I am disappointed on various levels, which I will try to explain in this review. MYTHS and RITUALS: I start here because this book is mostly advertised as a mythical Balkan novel. Some basic concepts the author does get right, I was born in Belgrade a few years before the author and (unlike her) lived there until college graduation, throughout the wars and crises of the 1990s. I was hoping that this book could tell some authentic stories about my generation and my homeland, but after reading it I am disappointed on various levels, which I will try to explain in this review. MYTHS and RITUALS: I start here because this book is mostly advertised as a mythical Balkan novel. Some basic concepts the author does get right, for example the forty days of the soul do begin on the morning after death. I think that nearly all Serbians know this and observe 40 days of the soul, most commonly by hiring a priest to perform a (short, simple, singing-based) service at the cemetery on the 40th day after death. In the book, Grandma's obsession with other details, such as not doing laundry etc, seems a little overblown, especially since it later gets revealed that this character is actually Muslim, so the deaths of her parents and cousins would not have involved such rituals in her hometown, as the narrator mentions. But considering other issues in the novel, this is a relatively minor flaw. The gory rituals that the diggers perform in the book bother me a lot more. This is supposed to be a realistic contemporary part of the story, and readers are supposed to believe that peasants would search for bones of a distant cousin in someone's vineyard and that they would wash the bones: "the cracked dome of the skull, wiping down the empty sockets and the crooked lines between the teeth." "Then they were breaking the thighbones, sawing through them with a cleaver so that the body could not walk in death to bring sickness to the living..." This is supposed to be happening in broad daylight, with about a dozen people actively participating, and many more passers-by watching, out of curiosity. Please! The Balkans had their share of trouble, but average people haven't grown accustomed to this level of goriness, and I've never heard of anything like "wash the bones, bring the body, leave the hearth behind", and can't imagine any of my cousins or friends doing anything but running away in horror at this kind of proposition (or a much milder one, to be honest). FOLKLORE: The author tries to use some elements of the Balkan folklore, which is a good idea in principle, because the region is rich with colorful traditions. I just wish she did more research and tried to stay true to the real folklore, instead of mixing it with other random elements. For example, there is a story of gusle (the traditional instrument) and a character who aspires and ultimately fails to become an expert guslar. A traditional guslar sings epic songs about courage, freedom and loyalty, which the character sadly never tells in the book and the author never seriously addresses. Instead, she introduces two entirely foreign elements: the tiger and the deathless man. One would be acceptable (and I like the tiger better, for his role in the story I discuss bellow), but two is too much. The deathless man feels alien and generic, like a lost cousin of Joe Black, sent to this novel by some hurried Hollywood producer, in an effort to tie together the loose plot treads. Disappointing. CHARACTERS and PLOT: The book is narrated by a young doctor Natalia, who we get to know through her fearless search for clues surrounding her grandfather's death, and some earlier memories that are mostly defined by her aspiration for proper medical education in her troubled hometown. I haven't connected with this character at all, even thought I am supposed to be of her age and background, and actually have friends who are young doctors in Belgrade. But there is no emotion that rings true and very few stories seem plausible. For example, she thinks it's necessary that the University provides one corpse a week per student for educational purposes on the second year of pre-med, and responds to the lack of such resources by taking a trip to a Romanian human skull counterfeiter. Come on! Thankfully, Natalia is not the main character and her grandfather is a little more interesting in my mind, mostly because of the compassionate episode with the tiger and his wife. Their unusual relationship is actually the bright point of this novel. But the "mystery" surrounding his death turns into another disappointment and the "real" reason for his trip to Zdrevkov ultimately doesn't make much sense. As for the plot, at one point I was hopeful that everything might come together nicely, and was almost going to swallow the gruesome diggers, for I imagined they might be necessary to reveal the central question about grandfather's death. But it turns out that all the narrator really needs (to answer this question) is between her old memories and the bag she retrieves pretty early on her journey, so for the entire second half of the book her present actions contribute only to illuminating the grim side-story of the village she is staying in. Argh. SETTING: The narrator lives in The City, with two rivers one of which is The Danube, the Zoo at the old citadel, and people who eat burek and drink rakija. So why not just call it Belgrade? (If she really wanted to make it vaguer, she could have omitted at least one river and left the other one unnamed.) With the details provided, I have to call it Belgrade; nothing else makes sense. So the narrator is in Belgrade at the beginning of the first recent major war (that would be 1992) and the Administration has enforced the curfew, and the teenagers are protesting in their cars, and the hardest thing to find is foreign music. In reality, as far as I know, there was no memorable curfew, and no teenagers drove cars (the legal driving age was 18 and the gas was mighty expensive, so there was hardly any traffic in the city), and media piracy blossomed, so music was the cheapest thing to find. Should I go on? CONCLUSION: Tea Obreht is a talented writer with some knowledge of the Balkans. This could have been an interesting book, had the author done more research and tried to stay true to more authentic and less sensational elements. As written, the book is a mix of truths and misconceptions, which in my opinion succeeds in making an average reader very confused and a knowledgeable reader quite irritated in the end. And the big message is? That the Balkans are sad and tragic, and that desperate people resort to personal and collective myths in order to deal with harsh realities. 350 pages to learn this? The good news is that the Balkans are less grim and more dimensional than this novel suggests and I hope that one day someone manages to capture that in some better book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rusty

    When I finished The Tiger's Wife by Tia Obrecht, I realized that this read is not the one I expected. Instead, it's a gentle read about memories, death, and the future. Natalia loves her grandfather dearly. He taught her so much about life and people that when he dies she begins to recall the many incidents that marked his life and hers. She was the only one he told he was so ill to the distress of her grandmother. He was her mentor so she, too, became a doctor. One of the stories that is so mem When I finished The Tiger's Wife by Tia Obrecht, I realized that this read is not the one I expected. Instead, it's a gentle read about memories, death, and the future. Natalia loves her grandfather dearly. He taught her so much about life and people that when he dies she begins to recall the many incidents that marked his life and hers. She was the only one he told he was so ill to the distress of her grandmother. He was her mentor so she, too, became a doctor. One of the stories that is so memorable for the reader is that of the tiger's wife, a deaf-mute woman whose very existence evokes superstition among the village people. The other is that of the mora or deathless man whose encounters highlight her grandfather's life and whom, she, too, gets to meet. If you expected an adventure tale skip this one but if you want one to read, muse about life and death and the tales therein this is a read for you.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    A tricky book to categorise, with SO many threads (and this review will do likewise): Natalia recounts her memories of two periods in her life: childhood and a journey she makes as a young doctor in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia. These are mingled with magical-realistic stories of a generation or two earlier, and references to Shere Khan in Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”. There are also longish diversions into the backstory of other characters (Luka, the husband of "the Tiger’s Wife", A tricky book to categorise, with SO many threads (and this review will do likewise): Natalia recounts her memories of two periods in her life: childhood and a journey she makes as a young doctor in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia. These are mingled with magical-realistic stories of a generation or two earlier, and references to Shere Khan in Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”. There are also longish diversions into the backstory of other characters (Luka, the husband of "the Tiger’s Wife", and Darisa the Bear), which may or may not be apocryphal. This does make it disjointed and creates a little confusion at times: I wasn't always immediately certain what was meant to be true and what was allegorical, or if and how the different strands related to each other. THEMES and CONTEXT In addition to the obvious themes of life, death, belief, and war, the issues of sexuality, disability, and whether people should know they are going to die are explored. There is a LOT going on in this book; I almost wonder if it would be better as a set of novellas. I also felt rather hampered by my lack of knowledge of the region or its recent history, but that is my failing, not Obreht's (adding more background information would have spoiled the book). Nevertheless, the book drew me in, although by half to two-thirds of the way in, I was enjoying it rather less, but I did finish it, and I’m glad I did so. PLOTS It opens with Natalia being taken to see a tiger at the zoo by her grandfather, who tells her the story of the Tiger’s Wife, which is threaded through the book. She explains, “Because I am little and my love of tigers comes from him, I believe he is talking about me, offering me a fairy tale in which I can imagine myself”. Her deep love for her grandfather endured, but “By the time I was thirteen, the ritual of [seeing] the tigers had become an annoyance… I was the prisoner of a rite I no longer felt necessary. I didn't know at the time that the rite wasn't solely for my benefit.” The other crucial story is that of the Deathless Man, and this too, is woven through the contemporary story. I wonder how differently would I have read the book if this had been its title. The two stories are key to understanding the grandfather. His roles in them are part of what made him the man he is, and yet telling them takes him back to childhood. They also highlight the apparent contradiction of a man of science (a doctor) not just retaining traditional superstitions, but continuing to invest them with so much meaning and to pass them on. WAR The experience and aftermath of war is well described (fighting, shortages, betrayal, interrogation, suspicion, and also bizarre fun, such as vigils at the zoo during bombing raids – dressed as animals), but I wished I could see it more vividly: instead, it conjured images of WW2 France, because that is more familiar (albeit from films). After the war, and having lost his job, grandfather has “an overwhelming desire to revisit lost places, to re-establish unmaintained rituals. The zoo was one of these”. This explains his final journey, but also those of some of the other characters. The effect of war also demonstrates people’s desire to believe: “when confounded by the extremes of life – whether good or bad – people would turn first to superstition to find meaning, to stitch together unconnected events… No matter how great the secret, how imperative absolute silence, someone would always feel the urge to confess, and an unleashed secret was a terrible force.” DEATH There is a LOT of death, much of it strange: the Deathless Man, Luka dead/missing, exhuming a body in a vineyard, the mystery of grandfather's death, Darisa's taxidermy and (separately!) his epileptic sister. Darisa uses taxidermy to pre-empt Death and “flush him from his hiding places”, where he “hovered in the spaces between things… If he kept Death there, invited and preoccupied… it would not wander the house.” NAMES Names are given power, and it is surely significant that no one knows the name of the Tiger’s Wife – not even her husband. A name assigns identity (personal, ethnic, religious - crucial during civil war) and allegory. This means they can’t truly be changed, “his old name, and what it meant, would follow him.” NARRATION Natalia seems like an omniscient narrator, yet she frequently acknowledges that information comes second-hand, and even from those who were born after the events they described. This contradiction niggled a little (which is odd, because other strands are clearly not the literal truth). OVERALL I think this is a good book, but just not especially to my taste. I feel that I missed a lot of the depth it probably has (either that, or it’s pretentious twaddle, and its fans are like the crowd admiring the clothes of the naked emperor!). Also, there is too much going on, and too many layers of fiction. I think it may have worked better as a collection of related short stories. QUOTES that made me think: • “There was something determined about the way the blue paint clung to the shutters and the door.” • During the war, “They [government] were going for structure, control, for panic that produced submission – what they got instead was social looseness and lunacy… the kind of celebration that happens when people, without acknowledging it, stand on the brink of disaster.” • A Walkman was “the angry wheels of my contraband spinning through the plastic window.” • “The pattern into which we had fallen as a family over the years, the tendency to lie about each other’s physical condition and whereabouts to spare one another’s feelings and fears.” • “The tiger had no destination, only the constant tug of self-preservation in the pit of his stomach.” And later, “Necessity drew him slowly out of his domesticated clumsiness.” • The apothecary’s shop had “swollen bottles of remedies” and he would “revel in their calm, controlled promise of wellness… things that signified another plane of reality.” • Orphans being vaccinated were “oblivious to pain, unmoved in practice by the things that kids at home reacted against on principle.” • “The dead are celebrated. The dead are loved. They give something to the living.” • “The tracks were heavy with hesitation here… he was choking on his own fear.”

  13. 5 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    It's so sad. People create meaning out of events that befuddle and frighten them to help put context into the diary they write every sunset. There is the story of the isolated village with expected roles for each villager in relationship to the village reprised several times decades apart in the book. The outsiders that drift into the village's story where the inhabitants are not sure these newcomers aren't evil spirits rather than people no matter how long they stay. How fear compresses time an It's so sad. People create meaning out of events that befuddle and frighten them to help put context into the diary they write every sunset. There is the story of the isolated village with expected roles for each villager in relationship to the village reprised several times decades apart in the book. The outsiders that drift into the village's story where the inhabitants are not sure these newcomers aren't evil spirits rather than people no matter how long they stay. How fear compresses time and feelings into wild scapegoating and more superstitious explanations made to fit after hundreds of whispered consultations amongst neighbors. Then war and a tiger, impossible events to village thinking without some kind of magical evil being drawn by unknown disturbance to their already misty isolated forest village, cause a linking story of cause and effect in mythical terms about the tiger and an outsider child wife of their brute of a butcher. All this forms the background to the childhood of a beloved grandfather who dies mysteriously far from home. His granddaughter, recipient and confidant of her grandfather's stories, feels the need to flesh out the stories of his past, to make his death a meaningful death. Modern science in the form of inoculations against disease are no match for religious beliefs hundreds of years old. Despite the university education, the medical degrees, the kind hearted motives of grandfather and granddaughter, the proven science of healing, no one can stop the destructive myth making behind the fear and grief caused by Death. Death cannot be simply a scientific process, it has to have a physical presence and an intelligence, motivation and purpose. It's powers can be suborned by evil spirits bent on wrecking ordinary family life. Death is impossible to think about unless somehow mythologized into mystical human patterns, hard science be damned. I am someone who prefers the truth of science reality. This book reveals how the extreme human fear of meaningless death causes sad, to me, struggles of the mind for cause and effect in typical brain pathways throughout history, as well as how the interplay of community, the past and survival of the group means more than individual truth or reality. The survival of the tribe especially under stresses like Death bring the most primitive coping mechanisms into action. As the writer shows how love and fear twine together for the apparent necessity of mystic explanations about death, preferred over demeaning reality and shameful human behaviors and stupidities, it's left to personal reader interpretation of the exposed underbelly of our psychological response to death. I have a bad taste in my mouth reading this book and recognizing the twists people do to reject reality. Even the animals must resort to devastating acts for distraction from impossible fear. Sigh. A very depressing book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    PorshaJo

    Let's be honest...I didn't really have a big desire to read this one. I ordered it to check it out since this author has a new book coming out. After a red-eye flight I had a very long drive and needed something to keep me awake. I figured what the heck, try this out.....and then, I was totally hooked I was immediately drawn into the story. I binged, spent the entire weekend wanting to hear more. Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. She is very close Let's be honest...I didn't really have a big desire to read this one. I ordered it to check it out since this author has a new book coming out. After a red-eye flight I had a very long drive and needed something to keep me awake. I figured what the heck, try this out.....and then, I was totally hooked I was immediately drawn into the story. I binged, spent the entire weekend wanting to hear more. Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. She is very close to her grandfather. She recalls from a very early age when her grandfather took her to the zoo and she saw the tiger, and a very traumatic event. Present day, her grandfather dies under somewhat of a mystery. She recalls stories, almost fables, that he told her. You must believe in magical realism. I wanted to hear more of these stories. I listened to this one via audio and really liked the narration. I enjoyed the stories but after some time, towards the end, they started to drag a bit. Overall, I'm glad I read this one finally.. I have no idea why I thought this book was something completely different. I'm looking forward to reading the next from this author.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Ancient enmities, long ago legends. I was disappointed which is probably not fair. This book and its author have been hyped so much it would almost be impossible to live up to, having said that this is a there are many wonderful parts to “The Tiger’s Wife”. Obrecht interweaves local Eastern European legends throughout the book helping to explicate the parts that take place currently. She explains a way of thinking through past belief and how those beliefs were formed. For the most part the people Ancient enmities, long ago legends. I was disappointed which is probably not fair. This book and its author have been hyped so much it would almost be impossible to live up to, having said that this is a there are many wonderful parts to “The Tiger’s Wife”. Obrecht interweaves local Eastern European legends throughout the book helping to explicate the parts that take place currently. She explains a way of thinking through past belief and how those beliefs were formed. For the most part the people lived (and still live) an isolated rural life where everyone knew everyone else and had for generations. Even up to current time they believed that in order to cure an illness that they all shared the solution was to dig up a shared ancestor and rebury them at the crossroads. The visiting doctor asks, ““Why crossroads?” He sounds a little surprised at my ignorance. “Crossroads are where the paths of life meet, where life changes.”” The Tiger of the title is left to starve after war breaks out and destroys the zoo and most of the surrounding town. He’s half tame so it’s easy for a deaf and dumb woman to adopt him and feed him. Her brutal husband hates the tiger and the care she gives it. Mysteriously the husband disappears. Did the Tiger eat him? Did his mistreated wife murder and bury him? Did he just leave? Somehow the wife finds herself pregnant. The town gossips. People take sides and another legend is born. Obrecht’s writing is clean and even a little stark. It has a frankness that feels a bit ‘in your face’. I lost patience with the tall tale telling though but then I’m not a magical realism fan. 3.5/5

  16. 5 out of 5

    Donald

    I can't believe this is Obreht's first novel. It is really really good. When Obreht's name was announced on the New Yorker's '20 under 40' list, a lot of people complained about it. The complaints were of three varities: 1) misogyny (I read someone who denounced her as a "Barbie look-alike", which she isn't. But even if she was, what does that have to do with her writing?), 2) that she didn't have enough published work (no novels yet, only short stories), or 3) that she was a token 'young person' I can't believe this is Obreht's first novel. It is really really good. When Obreht's name was announced on the New Yorker's '20 under 40' list, a lot of people complained about it. The complaints were of three varities: 1) misogyny (I read someone who denounced her as a "Barbie look-alike", which she isn't. But even if she was, what does that have to do with her writing?), 2) that she didn't have enough published work (no novels yet, only short stories), or 3) that she was a token 'young person' on the list. Nobody commented on the quality of her writing. But go back and read her stories and the early 'Tiger's Wife' excerpt. They fucking rule. The NYer editors obviously read the manuscript of the novel as well. She is supremely talented. She might be the most talented writer of the whole NYer list. I could describe the book or give you a plot synopsis, but you can read that on the book jacket. Just read the book. I read it in two nights. It's that good. Now, I can't wait for her next novel! (It's also sweet that she is moreorless the same age as me.)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Britany

    I'm still not even sure what I just read-- I'm still a little confused and have questions, but don't think I care enough to ponder them. Natalia is a young Doctor off to help vaccinate the children in war stricken part of the Balkans. Meanwhile, her grandfather has died and claimed he was on his way to visit her. This novel weaves these two storylines together creating legends and lore that Natalia has to sift through to come to terms with what happened to her grandfather. I was bored almost thro I'm still not even sure what I just read-- I'm still a little confused and have questions, but don't think I care enough to ponder them. Natalia is a young Doctor off to help vaccinate the children in war stricken part of the Balkans. Meanwhile, her grandfather has died and claimed he was on his way to visit her. This novel weaves these two storylines together creating legends and lore that Natalia has to sift through to come to terms with what happened to her grandfather. I was bored almost throughout the entire novel. The legends aspect was interesting but quickly lost its luster, I did appreciate the Jungle Book references weaved throughout. The characters were one dimensional and some were irrelevant. At the end of the novel, I have to ask myself what was the point? I may have missed it on this one.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    What do you say in a moment like this? When you can't find the words to tell it like it is. Just bite your tongue and let your heart lead the way. Lyrics from What do you say? Reba McEntire Friends, I am literally drawing strength from a country song as I write this review. Please cover your eyes and plug your ears and know that it's not you, it's me. I have read thousands of reviews( okay maybe a slight exaggeration ) in the last 24 hours, including many literary critics and interviews with What do you say in a moment like this? When you can't find the words to tell it like it is. Just bite your tongue and let your heart lead the way. Lyrics from What do you say? Reba McEntire Friends, I am literally drawing strength from a country song as I write this review. Please cover your eyes and plug your ears and know that it's not you, it's me. I have read thousands of reviews( okay maybe a slight exaggeration ) in the last 24 hours, including many literary critics and interviews with the author regarding this 2011 debut. It's not that I didn't see the way in which fable weaves with Serbian-Yugoslavia history, just that I never felt hooked.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This is the first book I read for my Around the World challenge, and what a way to start. The reason I have both Yugoslavia and Croatia listed is that the locations are intentionally unnamed or made up throughout the novel. Obreht does this on purpose to disassociate story from place, since so much of the turmoil in that area of the world is caused by family name endings and minor differences. The story is about two generations of doctors in a family - the grandfather and the granddaughter, and a This is the first book I read for my Around the World challenge, and what a way to start. The reason I have both Yugoslavia and Croatia listed is that the locations are intentionally unnamed or made up throughout the novel. Obreht does this on purpose to disassociate story from place, since so much of the turmoil in that area of the world is caused by family name endings and minor differences. The story is about two generations of doctors in a family - the grandfather and the granddaughter, and as the story starts, the grandfather has just passed away. Combined throughout is the story of his childhood, as well as hers, both living through strained peace and chaotic conflict. Every once in a while, Obreht will step back and set the scenery for the reader. I saw one review that thought this was a misstep, but to me it was a reminder that while this is written in the present day, these places are not the same as what I as the reader know. Each place has so much history - some of the buildings and land ownership date back to medieval times, for instance. In that same spirit, there are two legends that wind throughout the story, that of the tiger's wife, and the deathless man. I loved moving back and forth between the past and present, the story and the reality. See more on my blog (quotes, a recipe I made, and the music I listened to!).

  20. 4 out of 5

    April

    Initially, getting into this book was quite difficult for me. There just wasn't enough there in the beginning chapters to hook me in, but I kept reading anyway because of the praises for this book. I kept thinking, am I not getting something here? There's been a large amount of hype for "The Tiger's Wife" and perhaps that's the reason why it did not live up to my expectations. The folklore tales were the best part of this book. I enjoyed reading about the origins of all of the characters that ha Initially, getting into this book was quite difficult for me. There just wasn't enough there in the beginning chapters to hook me in, but I kept reading anyway because of the praises for this book. I kept thinking, am I not getting something here? There's been a large amount of hype for "The Tiger's Wife" and perhaps that's the reason why it did not live up to my expectations. The folklore tales were the best part of this book. I enjoyed reading about the origins of all of the characters that had something to do with the protagonist's grandfather. On the other hand, I don't think that we're allowed to really get to know the protagonist either. She's very flat as a character and not well rounded at all. We're told that we're supposed to care about her grandfather dying, but we don't even really get fed enough to even care about her grandfather's death. Overall, I thought the book would be better based on the reviews and when I finished it, I felt cheated. The book is OK, but it definitely doesn't live up to its reviews.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    OK... So here's the deal. Maybe this book is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I just couldn't take it anymore. I made it through almost 3 of 9 discs of the audio, and every time I turned it back on, I immediately found myself getting annoyed and frustrated. Seriously, immediately. There was no transition from perfectly fine, through tetchy to peevish to annoyed. Nope. I turn on this audiobook, and then I hear the narration, and 2 seconds later I want to rip out my car CD player in a Hu OK... So here's the deal. Maybe this book is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I just couldn't take it anymore. I made it through almost 3 of 9 discs of the audio, and every time I turned it back on, I immediately found myself getting annoyed and frustrated. Seriously, immediately. There was no transition from perfectly fine, through tetchy to peevish to annoyed. Nope. I turn on this audiobook, and then I hear the narration, and 2 seconds later I want to rip out my car CD player in a Hulk-like rage. RAWR! It's not that the story is bad... I just found it so hard to actually focus on the story that I wouldn't know. The Grandfather's Deathless Man story was good, but his part was read by someone with talent. So there you go. The other parts, meaning 90% of what I listened to, was read by a woman who sounded like she was reading a grocery list in an almost monotonously saccharine-sweet British accent. I wanted some variation to her tone, some TEXTURE to the reading... something to give some personality to this woman who is telling this story. Instead, the only variation came when she read the part of a worker who resented the main character butting into his business. She made HIM sound like he was malevolently evil and just waiting for her to turn her back on him so that he could smash her skull in and rob her corpse. It was just so extreme. Either there's no inflection, no personality, no LIFE in the reading, or it's completely melodramatically over the top. And then there's the description. Oh my gawd. Natalia walks into a kitchen, and there's 10 achingly dull minutes spent on describing the kitchen, all in jagged list-like pieces: the light reflecting off the neck of the bottle, the dusting of flour on the counter, the droplets of water in the sink from the dripping faucet, the cracked window pane looking out onto the garden, the quality of the sunset light. On and on and on and on and on and on... I wanted to rip out my hair with each new description. And that was only 3 discs worth. I wanted to like this. A friend recommended it and I trust her judgement. But man, when I start yelling at my car radio to get the fuck on with the story, I think that's time to call it quits and go our separate ways. Not to mention that I've been working on it for 13 days and barely made it through 3 discs. I'm just glad I didn't pay for this.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    I've been under the weather all week, but finally gave up the ghost on Thursday, promising myself a day of Victorian languishment on the sofa, indulging in cold cereal and a book. Thus was I able to finish The Tiger's Wife, started the night before as I huddled on that same sofa, shivering with fever and chills. My physical state - which left me feeling hollow, forlorn, a bit weepy and frustrated - was the ideal condition in which to engage fully in Tea Obreht's Orange Prize-winning The Tiger's I've been under the weather all week, but finally gave up the ghost on Thursday, promising myself a day of Victorian languishment on the sofa, indulging in cold cereal and a book. Thus was I able to finish The Tiger's Wife, started the night before as I huddled on that same sofa, shivering with fever and chills. My physical state - which left me feeling hollow, forlorn, a bit weepy and frustrated - was the ideal condition in which to engage fully in Tea Obreht's Orange Prize-winning The Tiger's Wife. With its feverish mix of war, death, fabulism, violence, disease, bestiality, and the walking dead, I had the perfect companion for my misery. Although my illness outlasted the reading of this novel, I was not less sorry to see the latter end first. The Tiger's Wife takes a modern-day tragedy - the early to mid 1990's war in the former Yugoslavia - and cloaks it in confounding mythology and brutal metaphor. As the novel opens, it is a few years following the end of the conflict. Borders have been drawn, peace accords signed, and where people rightly belong can be determined by their last names and their accents more easily than by their passports. Newly-formed nations are rebuilding on the foundations of ancient grudges. We are led through the narrative by Natalia Stefanovic, a young doctor on a mission of mercy to an orphanage across "the border." She learns along the way that her beloved grandfather, a celebrated physician afflicted with terminal cancer, has died, ostensibly on his way to find her. In truth, he had inexplicably travelled to a remote village where four teenagers had been killed by a landmine left from the recent war. There he died and though his body was returned to his family, his affects were not, preventing his bereaved wife from mourning him properly and sending his spirit to a restful afterlife. Natalia's efforts to accept her grandfather's death and to recover his belongings bring about powerful memories of stories her grandfather told of his childhood and the fables his village kept alive through generations of invasion, war and deprivation. Obreht employs the classical allegory of beast - an anthropomorphized tiger escaped from a zoo in 1941- vs. beastly man to illustrate the history of the Balkans. The region is a crossroads of war, a fault-line between East and West, a stew of race, language, religion that has rarely known extended peace. That domesticated tiger- the human collective of the former Yugoslavia- is suddenly tossed into the wild and learns to eat before being eaten. Man as enemy is the political machine, feckless and frightened despite weapons and shelter. But not every man is evil; the tiger's wife and the young boy who loves her - the young boy who would one day become Natalia's grandfather - represent hope, survival, and compassion. Much has been made of the promise of this extraordinarily mature writer. Obreht’s gift with language is undeniable. She draws images of amazing depth and color, her imagination reveling in the richness of Balkan lore and the limitlessness offered by magical realism. Yet, the fable of the tiger's wife would be enough to make this dark and beautiful tale resonate. But all too soon the arc of Obreht's narrative becomes so entangled in her tapestry of fabulism that sadly, it drones. Her style is so lovely and lyrical, but the substance suffers under the weight of endless metaphor. We never really get to know Natalia, who holds such promise as an interesting character. She is a grown woman yet her edges are dim, as if Obreht wasn't yet ready to inhabit the body and mind of a contemporary adult, from whom all magic has been stripped. We are left wanting to know more about the present reality, how the recent past is shaping the region's future. The tension that reverberates through the villages where Natalia travels signals that the although the conflict is over on paper, the suspicions and superstitions run as deep as history is long. This is not a story as much as it is a patchwork of images. Those images are beautifully rendered but don't add up to a full narrative. The head recognizes the skill, but the heart is left unsatisfied.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Greg Coates

    I consider myself of at least average intelligence, but this book lost me. I know the critics loved it and so it is an act of daring for me to state this, but I don't think this is a good novel. So despite what the experts say, i must insist that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes. And here are my reasons why: - I don't become emotionally attached to a single character. Perhaps that's because there is little to no character development, - I don't know what this story is "about.". The search for I consider myself of at least average intelligence, but this book lost me. I know the critics loved it and so it is an act of daring for me to state this, but I don't think this is a good novel. So despite what the experts say, i must insist that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes. And here are my reasons why: - I don't become emotionally attached to a single character. Perhaps that's because there is little to no character development, - I don't know what this story is "about.". The search for truth? The relationship between family members? The intersection of myth with reality? The sanctity of animals? If any of those are correct, then I'd be sadly disappointed with their development, - I understand the author's desire not to overstate matters and allow the reader to fill in the gaps. I can appreciate that, but she is so completely vague that I'm left scratching my head and not even caring enough to try to figure it out. Can't you throw me a bone here? - The best parts of the story are the mini-narrative flashbacks. They are clear and engaging (which is why I give the book two stars). But then you come to find that these are hardly integrated at all into the metanarrative -- making me feel like I've wasted my time on back stories that do not matter. - I was hoping that the end of the book would redeem the rest. It didn't. It remained so cryptic until the end that my final thought was, "Well, I'm glad that's over with." This young author is talented without a doubt. And at times her descriptive images of places can be enchanting, but I need a plot, honey, and you just didn't give me one. Or if you did, it was written in some Yugoslavian language I don't know.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Perhaps because I have some family ties to the region of the former Yugoslavia, I lovingly embraced the setting of The Tiger's Wife. "The City" is never revealed but I assumed it was meant to be Belgrade. I recognized some of the superstitions and folk tales and smiled and rolled my eyes. When our protagonist Natalia describes the uses of rakija to bring down a fever I was transported back to my childhood bedroom and the eye-stinging stench of rakija-soaked towels forcibly pressed to my forehead Perhaps because I have some family ties to the region of the former Yugoslavia, I lovingly embraced the setting of The Tiger's Wife. "The City" is never revealed but I assumed it was meant to be Belgrade. I recognized some of the superstitions and folk tales and smiled and rolled my eyes. When our protagonist Natalia describes the uses of rakija to bring down a fever I was transported back to my childhood bedroom and the eye-stinging stench of rakija-soaked towels forcibly pressed to my forehead. "The little girl was looking at me without fear or deference, and I found myself coming into the room, taking a few steps on the balls of my feet. At this distance, I could smell the alcohol, the thin, searing smell of walnut rakija. The sheet has been soaked in it; they were trying to bring down her fever, break it by cooling her very quickly. It was a backwater method, a precipitous gamble, and we'd seen it over and over at the urgent care clinic - new mothers who couldn't be steered away from their own mothers' remedies." Obreht writes beautifully. The story jumps from the present day where an adult Natalia learns of her beloved grandfather's death, to stories of her grandfather as a child. Death is prevalent in every page. From her grandfather's mysterious passing in the opening pages to "The deathless man" - people die throughout this book. Children of illness and war, a man accidentally shoots himself in the head, people dig throughout the night searching for a corpse. It's morbid and morose and wonderfully so. Obreht succeeds in creating an atmosphere rich in imagery. In one scene Natalia and her grandfather stand in the middle of the night on a deserted village street watching an escaped elephant strolling the boulevard. "Eventually my grandfather said: "You must understand, this one one of those moments." "What moments?" "One of those moments you keep to yourself," he said....."We're in a war," he said. "The story of this war - dates, names, who started it, why - that belongs to everyone......but something like this - this is yours. It belongs only to you. And me. Only to us." Unfortunately, for all the things I loved in this book, the beauty and mysticism, there were glaring flaws. There seemed to be something missing and after mulling it over I can only deduce that it was an emotional connection that lacked. Natalia is so removed and detached and we never get to know her at all. This could be intentional - the core of the story was her grandfather's life and death and the folktales and legends. But it hindered the book in my opinion. Natalia seemed....pointless. She had no personality, almost no back-story and left no impact. The story could've been richer, the horror of the war should've pierced my heart. But it didn't. So I liked this book, but I just can't give it more than three stars.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I was both surprised and enchanted by this Orange Prize winner. My only prior knowledge of the novel was that it was set in Eastern Europe in wartime, which, I must sheepishly admit, had me expecting dull, hokey descriptions of local custom and embarrassing attempts at heart-rending emotion. Luckily Obreht, at the ripe old age of 25, had the subtlety to avoid cliché and tedium. The novel reminded me most of Everything is Illuminated, with its modern-day protagonist taking a journey into an ancest I was both surprised and enchanted by this Orange Prize winner. My only prior knowledge of the novel was that it was set in Eastern Europe in wartime, which, I must sheepishly admit, had me expecting dull, hokey descriptions of local custom and embarrassing attempts at heart-rending emotion. Luckily Obreht, at the ripe old age of 25, had the subtlety to avoid cliché and tedium. The novel reminded me most of Everything is Illuminated, with its modern-day protagonist taking a journey into an ancestor’s past in war-torn Eastern Europe, uncovering magic as well as sadness. Obreht’s approach is a bit more straightforward for the reader (without Foer’s various filters) but just as charming. Her narrator’s discoveries about her grandfather centre around two myths: the tiger’s wife and the deathless man. The deathless man is a delightful folk tale figure who provides most of the humor in the book. No matter what violence he experiences, he cannot die; he just pops up again (even from within a coffin), asking for water and then performing his clairvoyant’s trick of seeing a person’s fate in their coffee grounds. Natalia’s grandfather encounters him at several key moments in his career as a doctor and also, maybe, persuades him to allow a reprieve from death. Obreht is clever enough to leave a few unresolved questions for readers to ponder. For instance, in the case of the tiger’s wife, was she actually impregnated by the escaped tiger? It is a tribute to Obreht’s skill that the hint of bestiality here is more mystical than disturbing. The present-day framing story is the least interesting, but provides a steady realism that counters the magical elements of the grandfather’s stories. Natalia, a doctor working to inoculate children at orphanages, hears of her grandfather’s death and has to travel to collect his effects from the village where he died. The grit and grimness of wartime are most evident in these sections of the novel, with Natalia meeting roadblocks, mines, and sickly locals who are engaged in disinterring a cousin’s body. (The most memorable image from the novel is one of its most earthy: Natalia’s school science teacher brings in a pair of lungs for them to dissect, drops them in the dirt, and has to reinflate them with a straw.) It seems as if myth is going to enter into Natalia’s real life when she is guarding the heart of the unearthed body and its attendant grave gifts are taken by a mysterious figure she mistakes for the deathless man; even though there is a mundane explanation for his appearance, I don’t get the impression that Obreht is out to dismantle superstitions. Indeed, the myths are what bring the book to life.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    This is a wonder of a novel! I requested it from LTER after reading two stories by Téa Obreht in The New Yorker, one of which turns out to have been an excerpt from this book. The stories were remarkable for their beautifully crafted language and sheer storytelling power and raised my expectations for the novel. I could not have been more richly rewarded. Natalia, a young doctor in an unnamed Balkan country still suffering from the effects of a war that has torn the country apart, travels across This is a wonder of a novel! I requested it from LTER after reading two stories by Téa Obreht in The New Yorker, one of which turns out to have been an excerpt from this book. The stories were remarkable for their beautifully crafted language and sheer storytelling power and raised my expectations for the novel. I could not have been more richly rewarded. Natalia, a young doctor in an unnamed Balkan country still suffering from the effects of a war that has torn the country apart, travels across a new border to vaccinate orphans. Learning that her beloved grandfather, also a doctor, has died far from home, and under pressure from her grandmother to find out the circumstances of his death, she makes a detour to the town where he died. On this frame, Obreht builds layer upon layer of stories, stories told to Natalia through the years by her grandfather, stories that explain everything about his life and, she comes to believe, about his death. The first story takes place during an earlier war, when Natalia's grandfather was a young boy, and a tiger, freed from the city zoo by German bombs, makes its way to her grandfather's village. The second story is about an immortal man who meets Natalia's grandfather three times over many years, appearing where there is illness and war to gather souls. Obreht tells these stories bit by bit, with vivid imagery and fully developed characters, interweaving them seamlessly with Natalia's journey. Ultimately, they help her understand her grandfather's life and death while they illuminate a people's dreams, fears and superstitions. At 25, Téa Obreht writes with self-assurance well beyond her years. This is a dazzling debut.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lata

    Only got about a third of the way through this book. I just could not care about the main character, though I did enjoy the one section I read narrated by the main character's grandfather. Mostly, I found my attention kept wandering as I listened to this, and minutes would go by before I'd realize I had missed chunks of story. And I just wasn't interested in going backwards to relisten to minutes I'd miss. So, I guess the author just hadn't engaged my interest. So, chucking this book back to the Only got about a third of the way through this book. I just could not care about the main character, though I did enjoy the one section I read narrated by the main character's grandfather. Mostly, I found my attention kept wandering as I listened to this, and minutes would go by before I'd realize I had missed chunks of story. And I just wasn't interested in going backwards to relisten to minutes I'd miss. So, I guess the author just hadn't engaged my interest. So, chucking this book back to the library.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Antigone

    We are in the Balkans. Natalia, a young doctor, has taken on the charitable mission of inoculating children in a neighboring province when she receives the news that her beloved grandfather has died. Grief descends, and with it all the many memories of this influential man - recollections steeped in Yugoslav mythology and tradition, superstition and cultural practice - that open the door to a region often shrouded to the notice of the modern mind. Two stories, in particular, take the lead; two fig We are in the Balkans. Natalia, a young doctor, has taken on the charitable mission of inoculating children in a neighboring province when she receives the news that her beloved grandfather has died. Grief descends, and with it all the many memories of this influential man - recollections steeped in Yugoslav mythology and tradition, superstition and cultural practice - that open the door to a region often shrouded to the notice of the modern mind. Two stories, in particular, take the lead; two figures, darkly enhanced with folkloric propensities, stride within them to center stage. The first is the deathless man; in every sense corporeal yet, through the dictate of another, has been robbed of the permission to die. He's a trickster, this one, and appears to the grandfather several times throughout his life. Second is the tiger's wife, a young woman caught in a horrific marriage until the day a ranging cat, thought to have escaped from a distant zoo, happens along. The work is beautifully written, if a bit heavy on exposition. (Not everything, surely, needs to be described.) If you were a fan of the Afghan tales of Khaled Hosseini, you might find a great deal to enjoy here.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Algernon (Darth Anyan)

    an interesting read with some very good character sketches and a twisted timeline, jumping backward and forward and from one story into another. Beautiful prose, but for me it was slightly too fascinated with the macabre. I wonder if the supernatural elements were really necessary to the story the author was trying to tell. I also wonder if the short story format isn't more proper for Obreht. As a full novel, it seems insufficient to write a book about how life is pointless

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    The prose flows like a calm river meandering through a valley at sunset. The descriptions as vivid as a painter’s imagination with adverbs and adjectives used about as sparingly as midnight binges. There’s no question Tea Obreht can write. Her talent level exceeds her twenty-five years (at the time of her novel’s publication) by leaps and bounds, and she could easily write circles around novelists more than twice her age. She could teach classes on poetic prose and invoking crystal clear images The prose flows like a calm river meandering through a valley at sunset. The descriptions as vivid as a painter’s imagination with adverbs and adjectives used about as sparingly as midnight binges. There’s no question Tea Obreht can write. Her talent level exceeds her twenty-five years (at the time of her novel’s publication) by leaps and bounds, and she could easily write circles around novelists more than twice her age. She could teach classes on poetic prose and invoking crystal clear images through words and bountiful, beautiful descriptions cover nearly every page. So, yeah, the woman has talent, loads and loads of talent. But slogging through THE TIGER’S WIFE proved about as easy as walking through a three-foot snowdrift immediately after a blizzard. Yeah, it’s beautiful and wonderful and magical, but at some point I was bound to get my feet stuck. And it didn’t just happen once. It happened a multitude of times, as it took me months to finish this novel, and along the way, I may have even gotten lost in THE JUNGLE BOOK, and met a tiger, a mongoose, a pair of cobras, and a muskrat. Even though it was well-written, it proved about as easy to follow as being in the jungle in the middle of the night without a compass, a flashlight, a map, or the wonders of satellite technology, and if asked to sum it up in an intelligent manner, I’d probably scratch my head, look up at the stars, and then run like hell in the opposite direction. Sure, it’s about a relationship between Natalia and her grandfather, and then there’s the mythology of the deathless man and the tiger’s wife—where the novel gets its namesake—(we’re on a roll now) and I enjoyed the way THE JUNGLE BOOK was used in the story, but after that, I’ve got nothing. Loads and loads of nothing, and it sort of all tied together, but not really. If you love beautiful prose and descriptions that’ll make your eyes pop, then this book is for you, but if it’s a coherent story that all fits together nicely you’re looking for, you may want to look elsewhere.

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