Novelist Tea Obreht’s story is, as aptly described on a blog post elsewhere, like a painting in a museum. An impressionist painting of a landscape, with one lone soul looking from down from the hills to the sea, as a tiger slowly crosses in the foreground. Maybe with a Dali-esque copy of “The Jungle Book” with angel’s wings sprouting from it, half-melting while blazing across the sky. The novel is simply what’s read to you when you’re holding up the audio tour stick to your ear.
The story’s main character is Natalia, a young doctor in the Balkans, serving in a community service capacity in the war-torn country alongside her friend Zora. It’s at the outset of their journey that Natalia gets word of her grandfather’s passing—the only father figure she’s ever known. With that, we’re treated to two mystical tales passed from grandfather to granddaughter, as she works through her grief in a seaside city gripped by illness, despair and gypsies with their own mysterious death rites.
The title is that of one of the tales, but personally, I was more intrigued by the story of the deathless man. This book does not bring the suspense and excitement, but it does bring the storytelling, and the deathless man is a grand one. And, I suppose, so is that of Darisa the Bear, whose path crosses that of the Tiger’s Wife.
Full disclosure: Books that give me names and places I can’t pronounce automatically put me in a wee bit of a foul mood. But—if you can get over it and make up your own pronuncinations and just not worry about it, the novel is beautifully written. It’s not an easy read, forcing inferences and searching for the deeper meaning behind a passage, but you’re going to look a little smarter for reading it come Pulitzer time.
The Tiger’s Wife