Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Tigers Wife

The Tiger's Wife: A Novel
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.


Zibilee said...

Most of the reviews of this book I have read have been tepid, and I can't say that I am excited to try this one for myself. It seems like there is a lot going on in this story. Maybe a little too much. Thanks for sharing your honest feedback on it with us. I really appreciated it.

Cherry said...

I came from Cym Lowell's Book Review Party Wednesdays (BRPW).

I'm not fond of award bodies anyway... most of the time, I find the books they give awards to are not worth it. Makes me wonder if those people who gave these awards have even read the book!

Cherry Mischievous

Elizabeth said...

Stopping by from Cym Lowell's Book Review Party.

Nice review...not sure a book for me, though. :)

Stop by my blog to see my book listed on Cym's linky and for a giveaway of NIGHT TRAIN by Clyde Edgerton...courtesy of Anna Balasi of Little, Brown and Company.

Contest is on until July 25.

Hope to see you there.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your review. The book doesn't sound like one I would want to read either. Sounds like there is to much going on in this book.

I don't like when an author puts in so much stuff in a book just so they can make it interesting, or what they consider interesting.

Once again thanks you!

Greg Zimmerman said...

Totally agree with your assessment: I was lukewarm (read as: bored) by the book, but it's easy to recognize the talent. Looking forward to what Obreht comes up with next. Nice review!

Rebecca Chapman said...

It's the lack of emotion that got to me too. Brilliant writing I thought though. Im sure given this is her first book we can expect even better things in the future

SeaTac Limo Service - Legend Cars said...

I've been hearing a lot about Tiger's Wife. It seems to have made a lot of top lists this year and I've been thinking about picking it up too. Your and Claire's reviews are making me rethink that. I guess we'll see if I am in the mood for something meandering.