Sunday 19 February 2012

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht - Book Review

Title: The Tiger's Wife
Author: Tea Obreht
Publisher: Phoenix (Hachette)
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Birthday Gift

'Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs...'

A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic - Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book. Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather's death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery. From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realises he may have died searching for 'the deathless man', a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger's wife. (Goodreads Synopsis)

This is a story that thrives on magical realism: the juxtaposition of everyday events with mythological/folklore aspects. It is a blend that has worked well in much modern literature and The Tiger's Wife is no exception.

I loved Obreht's lyrical prose and the way the book weaved together the events in Natalia's life with the stories her recently deceased grandfather had told her. Death, and the way different people react to it, is a major theme that holds the novel together and the scenes with the deathless man were some of my favourite sections of the story.

There were a few odd moments when I felt the story started to lag, but then the next chapter would start and things would pick up again. That is the only reason this book got four stars and not five: I enjoyed it immensely, but it didn't capture me 100%.

Still, considering the fact Obreht is a fairly young writer, I think she has accomplished something amazing with this, her first novel, and I would most definitely read more of her work in the future.

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