Summary and book reviews of The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

The Tiger's Wife

A Novel

by Téa Obreht

The Tiger's Wife
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2011, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2011, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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About this Book

Book Summary

Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation.

Winner of the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction

In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.

But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.

Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weeklytrips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.

Winner of the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction

1

The Coast

The forty days of the soul begin on the morning after death. That first night, before its forty days begin, the soul lies still against sweated-on pillows and watches the living fold the hands and close the eyes, choke the room with smoke and silence to keep the new soul from the doors and the windows and the cracks in the floor so that it does not run out of the house like a river. The living know that, at daybreak, the soul will leave them and make its way to the places of its past—the schools and dormitories of its youth, army barracks and tenements, houses razed to the ground and rebuilt, places that recall love and guilt, difficulties and unbridled happiness, optimism and ecstasy, memories of grace meaningless to anyone else—and sometimes this journey will carry it so far for so long that it will forget to come back. For this reason, the living bring their own rituals to a standstill: to welcome the newly loosed spirit, the living will not clean, will not wash ...

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    Indie Booksellers’ Choice Awards
    2012

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Tiger's Wife is, on the surface, a tale of one woman's search for the truth behind her beloved grandfather's death, but the implications of this search are fundamental to the way we make sense of life and death. Obreht's delicate unfolding of Natalia's grandfather's past presents a multi-dimensional view of a man Natalia believed she knew. From the reader's view, these different perspectives are suspended but never resolved, so that we are left with the final, breathless conclusion that they could all be true. The tantalizing notion that the fantastic and unbelievable can co-exist with the mundane has long fueled religion, fiction, and folklore. Obreht teases out the human impulse to create stories, to contrive wonder in the face of temporality, and the result is extraordinary.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (628 words).

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly

[A] spectacular debut novel…[Téa] Obreht spins a tale of such marvel and magic in a literary voice so enchanting that the mesmerizing reader wants her never to stop…Obreht will make headlines as one of the most exciting new writers of her generations, a young artist with the maturity and grace that comes of knowing where one is from, and of honoring those who came before. Grade: A

San Francisco Chronicle - Yael Goldstein Love

Perhaps it is this gift - the ability to show and obscure in the same instant - that accounts for the strange power of Obreht's storytelling.

Kirkus Reviews

While at times a bit too dense and confusing, Obreht's remarkable story showcases a young talent with a bright future. A compassionate, mystical take on the real price of war.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Obreht is talented far beyond her years, and her unsentimental faith in language, dream, and memory is a pleasure.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Demanding one’s full attention, this complex, humbling, and beautifully crafted debut from one of The New Yorker’s "20 Under 40" is highly recommended for anyone seriously interested in contemporary fiction.

Booklist

Starred Review. Every word, every scene, every thought is blazingly alive in this many-faceted, spellbinding, and rending novel of death, succor, and remembrance.

Author Blurb Colum McCann
Téa Obreht is the most thrilling literary discovery in years.

Author Blurb T. C. Boyle
A novel of surpassing beauty, exquisitely wrought and magical. Téa Obreht is a towering new talent.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett
A marvel of beauty and imagination. Téa Obreht is a tremendously talented writer.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

an amazing debut
The Tiger’s Wife is the first novel by Serbian-born American author, Tea Obrecht, and is the winner of the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction. Young doctor, Natalia Stefanovic is on an assignment with her life-long friend Zora to innoculate the children ...   Read More

Judy R.

Extraordinary.
I read this book twice in immediate succession. Not because it was obscure, but because it was multidimensional and I wanted to savor all facets. The story-line alone was compelling and life-like in its detail. And profoundly personal in its ...   Read More

Cynthia

Great read - and a lot to think about afterward
This is a book you will be thinking about for weeks after you read it. The interwoven stories are fascinating, but the author leaves it to the reader to do a lot of the work of putting them together. The stories are metaphors for a larger theme, ...   Read More

Diane S

The Tigers Wife by Tea Obreht
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this book. It was exceptionally well written by one so young, a story about a young doctor, Natalia, who while on her way to an orphanage with inoculations finds out her beloved but terminally ill grandfather is ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Magical Realism

The Tiger's Wife comes out of the magical realism tradition. Like the technique itself, the definition of magical realism is difficult to pin down, but most critics agree that it is a literary mode that "seizes the paradox of the union of opposites." In this way, writers are able to hold, as Obreht does, the real and the fantastic together so that both paradoxical elements are accepted in the same thought.

Though the idea of magical realism was originated in 1920s Germany by Franz Roh to describe post-expressionist art, the term lo real maravillso (magical realism), as applied to literature came out of Latin America in the late 1940s. The first writers to find literary success with this mode were Argentinian Jorge Luis ...

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