Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Tiger's Wife

The title: The Tiger's Wife
The author: Tea Obreht
Publication:  Random House, 2011
Got it from:  The library

Whoa.  I can't believe it's been a month since I last posted a book review.  For some reason, I have been really struggling to finish a book recently.  It may be because I've been running two book clubs and the books we've been reading have been super huge.  I don't normally write about my book club books, but I'll make an exception this time.

Describing the plot of The Tiger's Wife is rather difficult.  It starts out in the present-day Balkans, with a young doctor traveling to rural communities to distribute medical care to children.  Her grandfather has just died, and in flashbacks she tells the story of her life growing up with him and the tales he told her about his childhood in a remote mountain village.  The stories he tells have a tinge of fantasy to them, and the two main ones involve a "deathless man" who the grandfather encounters throughout his life, and the tiger's wife.

What I like about this book is that the fantasy element has been left ambiguous.  Certainly the peasants in her grandfather's village growing up were superstitious and believed in folk tales.  What I took from it was that real events occurred (such as a tiger escaping from a zoo and running into the mountains) which later grew to mythic proportions.  There's a lot of push and pull between the folk beliefs of the villagers and the more rational, modern beliefs of the narrator and her grandfather (who was also a doctor).  One of the grandfather's most prized possessions was his copy of The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere, and allowed him to identify the tiger when it showed up in his village (as opposed to everyone else thinking it was a demon, not having seen one before).  The grandfather's stories seem to say that legends make life more interesting, but ignorance has its consequences, as when people turn to folk rather than modern medicine or make a scapegoat out of an innocent bystander (the tiger's wife).

I'm not much of a description person so I struggled with some of the detail of the book, but overall I liked the dream-like, strange atmosphere of the book.  It's almost like reading a modern-day Grimm's fairy tale where you have to prepare for the unexpected.

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