What We’re Reading: The Tiger’s Wife

It seems like you can’t go anywhere these days without brushing up against a tiger.

With the arrival of spring, we have talk on TV of whether or not golfer Tiger Woods can reclaim his glory.

And everywhere you turn there’s Charlie Sheen raving about his amazing “tiger blood.”

So why shouldn’t the literary world follow suit?

“Are you reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother?” my mother asks me via email.

“Not quite ready for that one,” I respond.

“How’s Tiger, Tiger?” my best friend Abby wants to know, having caught a glimpse of the book I’m reading.

“Wrong one,” I tell her.

I was reading The Tiger’s Wife, an exquisitely beautiful debut novel by twenty-five-year-old Tea Obreht.

In truth, I came to this book reluctantly, and started reading it primarily because of the heavy buzz created by Obreht’s inclusion in The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” fiction issue.

And this reluctance comes from only one source: pure, green-eyed envy. I mean, she’s only 25 years old!

But, of course, there’s no waiting for real talent, and that’s what this young author has in spades. In The Tiger’s Wife, Obreht lays an incredible foundation to support her multi-generational novel-slash-fable in which the protagonist–young doctor Natalia Stefanovi–works her way up the coastline of an unnamed Balkan country after a war, heading to a children’s orphanage. While on her journey, she receives word that her grandfather, also a physician, has mysteriously passed away, and it is now up to Natalia to retrieve his personal items and to get to the root of his death. Her investigation includes speculation of the grandfather’s search for “the deathless man”–a bewitching figure who had dominated Natalia’s childhood stories–as well as studying clues that reveal the reason for the continuous presence of The Jungle Book among her grandfather possessions, and the question of who exactly was the mysterious “tiger’s wife,” a deaf-mute woman befriended by an escaped tiger.

Obreht’s chapters seamlessly dart between time and place, covering Natalia’s years as a child in a remote village in the mountains during the war, while also introducing us to gorgeous characters seemingly drawn from another time and place who linger on in the memory: Darisa the Bear, The Apothecary, Luka the Butcher, Amana the Gusla player. Not only are Obreht’s characters rich with originality (the last time I have come across characters that entertained me so thoroughly was in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians), but also her prose is equally stylish and distinct.

While I don’t have the pleasure of knowing the author, I will end with one personal anecdote about The Tiger’s Wife. Many years ago, during one ridiculously hot summer in New York where my dear friends Melanie and Lily and I shared a New York University dorm (surviving on spaghetti dinners and overpriced coffee from Dean & Deluca), I routinely (and accidentally) received mail intended for a man with the same last name as me. Returning his mail to him led to our eventual friendship, which continued throughout the years as we both ended up working in the wondrous world of publishing. This very same man would end up being the person to discover Tea Obreht’s book and would become her agent.

Nearly ten years (!) after we first met in NYU’s mailroom, I am delighted to say congrats to them both on a book I am beyond eager to share with others.

–Megan Fishmann

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Today’s WHAT WE’RE READING is brought to you by Megan Fishmann–Algonquin publicist and high heel connoisseur.

 

 


6 Comments On This Post:

March 22, 2011
12:08 pm
Teresa says...

I was perusing your catalog last night and was immediately intrigued by this title. Now that you’ve given it such high praise I’m definitely going to have to read it.

March 22, 2011
3:00 pm
Caroline Leavitt says...

Not only is Megan the most fabulous publicist any writer could ever have, this was a brilliant review. I’m picking up this one, today.

March 22, 2011
9:44 pm
Susan says...

I just bought this novel… I can’t wait to read it, I will post it on my blog soon.

March 23, 2011
8:02 am
Megan Shaffer - Night Light Revue says...

“The Tiger’s Wife” has also made it’s way onto the Orange Prize longlist along with the young author Karen Russell of “Swamplandia” – you’ve got to love all of this potential coming up the literary pike.

March 23, 2011
4:41 pm
Hira H. says...

Wow, what an amazing review. This review makes me want to run out and get my hands on this book RIGHT NOW!!! Thank you for sharing it with us :)

August 23, 2011
9:43 am
s orlando says...

what was the story really about??? I didn’t get it at all. Maybe I read too much into it??

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