"The Tiger's Wife" by Tea Obreht has received plenty of acclaim and applause already.
I finished it between the holidays, and while I enjoyed reading it, I didn't ever feel "book lust" for it. I've been reflecting on that.
The novel has three basic strands. One is of a contemporary doctor, Natalia, living in an unnamed Balkan country. She and a friend travel to another country to treat orphans of the recent war. Natalia's grandfather recently died, and during her trip she explores the somewhat mysterious circumstances of his death. The other two strands are based on stories her grandfather told her, of a deathless man, and of woman who befriended a tiger that escaped the zoo during World War Two.
I know that I tend to become frustrated with stories told in strands. I usually find one strand compelling, while the others seem like distractions. This is how I felt with "The Tiger's Wife." I wanted to stay with Natalia. The other strands began to seem too big, too distracting. I didn't sense the kind of completion that I craved. I kept waiting for the three strands to come together in a compelling way.
I didn't dislike the book, in fact, I liked it. I just didn't find it as wonderful as others have.
What I enjoyed particularly were Obreht's way with words, and many of the images she creates. For instance, when she was a child, Natalia often walked with her grandfather to the zoo, where they spent time watching the tigers. The story opens with a scene where they witness the tiger turning on a zookeeper who has been careless. The contrast between the warm grandfather with Natalia, and the attacking tiger with the zookeeper, stayed with me through the novel. Who IS the tiger?
I'll recommend this to my friends who enjoy literary novels, who enjoy elements of magical realism, or who have an interest in the Balkan countries. I'll also recommend this as a title with immense book club potential.
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