Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht

Although I sometimes felt frustrated by the narrative structure of The Tiger's Wife, overall it was a satisfying read with its interesting characters, fantastical tales, and engaging voice.

The novel depicts the aftermath of a worn-torn Balkan region where Natalia, a young doctor, and her family feel affinities to both sides of the new border. Natalia journeys across it to help immunize the children of an orphanage, and, while there, searches for details surrounding her grandfather's mysterious death. The narrative oscillates from her childhood memories of her grandfather, to the legends her grandfather and other townspeople have told her, to her present job of innoculating and searching for answers. It took me a while to realize that the region itself, or its mythology, was the primary protagonist of the story and that Natalia's grandfather, the tiger's wife, the deathless man, Luca, Dursa the Bear, and even Natalia are secondary protagonists. Once I figured that out, I came to enjoy the novel; but in the first half, I kept asking myself, "Whose story is this?"

There were many moments when I could not put the book down. There were other times when I had to force myself to read on. With each new tale, I went through a "warming up" period in which it took a while for me to get into it, like with a collection of short stories that have different protagonists. By the last third of the novel, however, the individual stories started coming together into one satisfying, rich whole that surpassed the investment.

I would recommend this novel.