I just finished The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht last night. The reason I picked this book out was that I saw it on a list of 30 books to read when you’re 30…or something like that. Before anything else, I will have to say that it was difficult for me to get into the story. Obreht switches between the present and past, a technique I’m not extremely fond of in literature.
The story takes place in the Balkan region of Europe (my guess is around Turkey) and follows a young doctor, Natalia, as she tries to unwind the mysteries surrounding her grandfather’s death amidst civil war and turmoil in the country. To me, the book seemed to revolve around death and superstition. For instance, her grandfather (when he was alive) would tell her his encounters about the “deathless” man (yep, you guessed it, this guy couldn’t die). As obvious as it is that this phenomenon is impossible, I couldn’t find a metaphor or any link he really had to the general story, other than her grandfather’s interesting past.
And then there’s the whole issue of “the tiger’s wife” who really isn’t even mentioned until waaaaayyy into the book. Another memory of the grandfather’s past when he was growing up in a small village. A poor, severally abused, deaf, mute girl who is married unfortunately to a horrible butcher ends up befriending an escaped tiger in the woods (as well as the grandfather when he is a child). When the husband mysteriously disappears and/or dies (and when I say mysteriousy, I really mean it–I have no idea what happened to him), the townspeople nickname her the tiger’s wife and see her as the devil and such. Then you get a backstory of the town apothecary who stuck up for her a couple of times and then suddenly, they are both dead. He was hanged and she was found dead on her porch. Was he framed? Did he do it? I have no clue.
Theeennnn you get the present stories of Natalia going into the country to give shots and medicine to orphans and there are these people who are just digging all over the place to find a dead body that was buried somewhere in the ground. You see, a body must be properly buried and the heart burned (or something like that) with the hope that he won’t stick around in purgatory and haunt the living.
And on top of all of that, you get Natalia’s inner struggle of doing what she loves (or says she loves to do–maybe influenced by the civil war and turmoil and her grandfather) and finding out the mystery of his death.
I’ve decided that I need to read this book again. Possibly, in my haste, I missed over some details…but I’m doubtful. Some reviews that I’ve read have also voiced the same confusion, although I’ve also read others from people that thoroughly enjoyed it. So I wouldn’t call this book a “must-read”, but if you’ve got some extra time and are in the mood for some historical mystery, go and relax in a hammock with a mojito and crack it open. You might just surprise yourself.