Sunday, July 3, 2011
The Tiger's Wife: A Novel
by Tea Obreht, narrated by Susan Duerdin and Robin Sachs, Random House Audio, March 2011, 11 hours, 26 minutes.
...the stories are folkloric and individually are very good, great prose and really very lyrical in the telling, but I can’t get on the bandwagon for this one
This story is set in the Balkans, most probably modern day Croatia where the author is from. The centuries old ethnic fighting gives background to this unusual story. Natalie Stefanovi, a physician on a “cross border” mission to inoculate children is the main character and narrator. Natalie has just learned that her beloved grandfather has died far from home. Her grandfather, a well known physician has been forced from his medical practice because he is suspected of disloyalty to the new state. Natalie interrupts her volunteer medical mission and seeks answers to his death. The story then separates into a number of different threads - some occurring in the present and some from her grandfathers youth when the Nazi’s invaded Yugoslavia. All of the stories are folkloric and individually are very good, great prose and really very lyrical in the telling.
The Tiger’s Wife sub story tells of an escaped tiger from the Belgrade Zoo and a deaf mute who befriends him. The presence of the tiger terrorizes the village and its inhabitants but not the deaf mute who in the face of death remains unafraid. The story of the Butcher, the Pharmacist and the Bear Trainer provide vehicles for the author to describe not only the rich ethnic background of the area but also differing views on life and death. The Deathless Man is a story of a character who cannot die but appears at the scenes of catastrophe (no shortage of these in the Balkans, always man made). Another story set in the present tells of a large family digging to recover the bones of a close relative so he may be properly buried and centuries old traditions honored. Superstition and fear have prominent roles in most of the stories.
As maybe you can tell from my review so far, I was not wild about this novel. Individual stories were very good but overall I did not think they tied together well. For a novel that deals with some very basic human emotions, the main character Natalie was strangely unemotional. The allegorical nature of the novel was as usual wasted on me. I am not a fan of puzzling out what the author is trying to say (I know, I know that is a key element of great literature but it started early for me – reading Coleridge in high school I could never get the fuss over the albatross in Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner).
So while the author has been selected by The New Yorker as one of the best writers under 40 with this her debut novel, I can’t get on the bandwagon for this one. I also listened to an audio copy read primarily by Susan Duerdin. I wasn’t a fan of her reading style, a little too breathless and in the moment for this sadly recurring Balkan tragedy.
I listened to an audio copy borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia.