Review: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

tigers-wife-2

Bit of fanart by me, my final installment in my Inktober 2016 series.

Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction 2011! ‘Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs…’ A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic – Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book. Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery. From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realises he may have died searching for ‘the deathless man’, a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

Synopsis via Waterstones. 

It’s been so long since I’ve done a book review, I hope I’m not too rusty. Here we go…

I’d heard, vaguely, about “The Tiger’s Wife” while I was still reviewing actively on Goodreads. However, due to the fact that it didn’t exactly fall into what I was reading most at the time (YA), and an unfortunate name similarity (with a book called “The Tiger’s Curse”, which… is not a very good representation of Indian culture, let’s leave it at that), I never really came to pick it up.

It wasn’t until a dear friend of mine sent it to me that I actually sat down and read it.

And read it.

And read it.

And then I kicked myself because yes, it is as good as everyone says.

If you are fan of Isabel Allende’s “House of Spirits” or Angela Carter’s “Wise Children”, this book is for you. (The fact that I picked one author’s first book and another’s last for this comparison is a coincidence. This book will please fans of “Eva Luna” too.) Family history entwined with stories and magical realism that keeps you guessing is a very long-winded description of what you will find between the pages of “The Tiger’s Wife”, but that is exactly what it is.

I grew up in Bulgaria in the 1990s and 2000s, but the reality of the Balkan wars skipped me entirely – as a child, my mind was elsewhere, and my parents did not discuss it. It was not until I went to school and saw maps from different times that I realised there was a reality beyond my city, and the few blocks between home, the park and the school.

I did, however, identify with young Natalia, her weekly walks with her grandfather to the zoo, the camaraderie between them and then the way they grew apart, while still loving each other fiercely. I’m not sure whether I would have appreciated this book earlier in life, but I do now – if only because I know what that distance feels like, and how much it hurts.

It’s hard to tell if the deathless man and the story of the tiger’s wife really happened – Natalia never witnesses any of it with her own two eyes. She learns about the deathless man from her grandfather and about the tiger’s wife from the villagers of Galina. For all she knows, it could all be fiction. But, as the book progresses, it becomes more and more clear that it doesn’t matter. Fact or fiction, through these two stories she learns about her grandfather – and through them, she finds closeness, even after death.

This – not to mention phenomenal writing – is why I love this book so much. It reminds me there is a magic in stories after all, even when it seems the so-called real worl lacks in it entirely. It reminds me there is hope.

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