All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht

on September 19, 2011

Natalia is a young doctor living in the Balkan’s who, after a sort of scandal in her career, is travelling with a fellow doctor (also fleeing some sort of scandal) to a remote community to take part in innoculating orphans against disease. On the way there she receives several urgent pages from her grandmother and discovers that when she phones her that her grandfather has died, passed away in another remote village where he claims he was on his way to go and see Natalia.

Although Natalia was aware that her beloved grandfather (also a doctor) was sick and that she was also the only member of the family that was aware, she did not know that he was coming to see her and neither has she heard of the location in which he died. Her grandmother is very concerned because it seems his belongings were not returned to her with his body which means she cannot start a 40 day mourning ritual process. Natalia attempts to discover where her grandfather was going, why he was going there and what has happened to his belongings.

Woven into the narrative are two Balkan folk takes/myths that her grandfather spent time telling her over the years. One is of his encounters with the “deathless man”, a man who doesn’t die. Natalia’s grandfather comes across him at least three times, the first time in which he makes a wager with the deathless man in order to prove that the man can in fact die. He ties a rope to the deathless man and throws him into a body of water, determined to rescue him after the deathless man tugs on the rope. The deathless man does not and after the whole day or night, he emerges from the lake, perfectly fine. Natalia’s grandfather was convinced it was a trick and refused to turn over what he said he would – his prized copy of The Jungle Book to the deathless man. He tells of future encounters with the deathless man, a man who does not die himself but comes to inform others that they will be.

The other myth is the one of the tiger’s wife – when her grandfather was a boy there lived a butcher in his small village, who was married to a deaf-mute girl and guilty of abusing her. A tiger, escaped from the zoo after the city was bombed by Germans in WWII made its way into the remote part of the village and lived high above the town. The deaf-mute wife of the butcher seemed to identify and care for the tiger and although the tiger claimed several scalps in the village, it never touched the butcher’s wife, leading the locals to dub her ‘the tiger’s wife’. She was soon feared by the village, more so than even the tiger as their attempts to drive it away, or kill it, failed one by one. The only person in the village that seemed to identify with the tiger as well was Natalia’s grandfather and he was far from a passive observer as disastrous events played out.

It’s not often I finish a book and have absolutely no idea what to say about it. I tend to not finish books that don’t resonate with me, or that quite frankly, I don’t particularly understand. I’ve said before that I might be missing that ‘smart gene’ that allows me to really appreciate this sort of literary fiction. The Tiger’s Wife was the recipient of this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction, which celebrates women’s fiction. I wanted to read the winner of both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker this year so I requested this one from my local library when I noticed they had it in. And I slogged through it, determined to finish it even though quite frankly, once I got there, I had an absolute blank on what to say.

Firstly, Natalia appears to be only the mouthpiece for which the true main character of the novel, her grandfather, speaks. He dies before the book begins, in a move I’m not too sure about because it certainly seems like his life was an interesting one, judging from the small pieces we learn through Natalia’s re-telling of his stories. He wasn’t always a character I liked, but I think a book about him, from his point of view would’ve been much more interesting than using Natalia, who we never really knew anything about other than the fact that she was his granddaughter (how she seemed to define herself) and a doctor.

The triple narrative didn’t particularly work for me, mostly because I could not really figure out the point of the two folk stories/myths and although some of it made compelling reading, most of it was a bit too la-la for me. I loved the idea of reading a novel set in the Balkan’s, a place where so much has happened but although the terrible wars were mentioned, they were glossed over. People went and drank coffee while bombs were dropped on the City (it’s never named, but I’m assuming the ‘City’ referred to is Belgrade), more attention was paid to the plight of the animals in the zoo (a great deal is devoted to a tiger that started eating its own legs when the bombs were dropped on the City) rather than how it really affected Natalia and her family, or anyone else for that matter. It’s not a book about war, so I sort of understand that, but parts of it were taking place during some very tumultuous times for the area and that barely rated a mention.

This book obviously has a lot going for it, as it’s successful and the winner of a well known literary prize so obviously for me, it’s that famous line: I’m sorry The Tiger’s Wife, it’s not you. It’s clearly me. Because I really have no idea what you were trying to tell me and that’s obviously my own failing!

I can’t rate this because I neither liked it nor disliked it and barely even understood it.

Book #152 of 2011

I had to finish it so I’m definitely counting it for my 2011 Global Reading Challenge! It’s set in the Balkans (shifting changing borders they may be over time) so I’m counting it as my second book for the European continent and my 8th book overall. 13 books to go to complete this challenge!


2 responses to “The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht

  1. cityoflu says:

    I like your honest review of this book. Have you really read 152 books this year? That’s extraordinary! Good luck with your 2011 global reading challenge.

  2. Atina Josefine says:

    I just finished the book now, and I compltely agree! I just cant seem to find out what the meaning of this story was, Im rather cunfused actually. The book left me with nothing less than questions. I had high hopes for this book, as so many people have recomended it, but I really dont see why…

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