The Tiger’s Wife

In Teá Obreht’s first novel The Tiger’s Wife (Random House, 2011), the author weaves together multiple storylines set in the country of her birth, the former Yugoslavia, and stretching back from the present to the end of the Ottoman Empire. The principal narrator Natalia Steganovic is a doctor, who lives in an unnamed Balkan city with her mother, her grandmother, and her grandfather, who is also a doctor. She recalls childhood trips to the zoo with her grandfather, who always carried a copy of Kipling’s The Jungle Book in his breast pocket. He told her stories of an escaped tiger that menanced his village during World War II and was befriended by a nameless deaf-mute woman whom the town called the tiger’s wife. Natalia herself comes of age during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, a war the author herself avoided because her family left Belgrade when she was seven and she grew up in the United States from age twelve. The theme of death and the ways people respond to it ties the book’s multiple stories together, including one about a deathless man named Gavron Gailé, based loosely on a character from Slavic folklore. Natalia’s grandfather wagers his precious Jungle Book on the man’s mortality but he does not drown after spending all night at the bottom of a lake with his feet chained to cement blocks. Such elements of magic realism remind me of Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Obreht’s limited personal experience with war, religion, and Balkan geography is obvious at times, but her masterful storytelling absolves her.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Tiger’s Wife

  1. I liked the twin stories in this book, its a book that gets you thinking and can be interpreted in many ways, incredible talent.

  2. Thanks. You’ve sold it to me.

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