The Tiger’s Wife
by Tea Obreht
Magical realism is just not my thing. I want to feel oh-so-cultured and understand the hidden meaning and deeper beauty. But Love in the Time of Cholera, Beloved and Like Water for Chocolate were just too obtuse for my story-loving taste. (Although, Time Traveler’s Wife and Life of Pi are among my favorites … so who knows?!) But this novel, and its author, have garnered so many accolades, I felt compelled to give her a try. And magical realism or not, the book was lovely.
I must also admit that I (shamefully) had to resort to Wikipedia to brush up on my understanding of the Balkan conflict. The novel takes place in an unnamed fictional country, probably Bosnia-Herzegovina, and begins with doctor Natalia Stefanovi heading off to an isolated orphanage to administer vaccines, as well as trying to unravel the mystery of her ailing grandfather’s death in a nearby village. And each moment in Natalia’s present seems to trigger a memory in her past–the stories her grandfather told of the tiger’s wife and the deathless man.
The tiger’s wife was a deaf mute Muslim living with her butcher husband in Grandfather’s boyhood village. Abused and isolated, she feels kinship with an escaped tiger hiding in the mountains and terrorizing the village. Whether her connection went as far as Grandfather and the villagers dreamed was beside the point. I believed in the tiger’s wife. The deathless man made his way in and out of Grandfather’s life, perhaps for the last time just days before his death. After altering fate by cheating his beloved’s death, the deathless man is doomed to eternal life … on earth. Neither gun shot nor drowning can stop him and catastrophe follows his appearances over sixty years. And in Obreht’s hands I also believed in the deathless man. Both “stories” might very well be metaphor for how people in war torn countries deal with death and uncertainty, but I read them as no less real than Natalia and her grandfather.
Only twenty-five when Tiger’s Wife was written,Tea Obreht’s storytelling is flawless and her prose evocative. What an incredible gift this young woman has given us.
Next up: I started Misfortune by Wesley Stace and was loving the first hundred pages of the rollicking tale of an orphaned he-turned-she … but then I left it behind, a state away, at my daughter’s, leaving me bereft and at loose ends. Today my task is to find a quick read for my Kindle, just to tide me over until she brings it up with her next month.
Post script: Just bought the Kindle edition of The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta. Not a premillenialist by any stretch of the imagination, I’m intrigued to read a story about this weird concept, the rapture, written by someone other than an evangelical Christian ala Peretti (although the similarity in the names had me confused for a bit). Perrotta’s Catholic roots and Hollywood ties should put an interesting spin on an evangelical stronghold.