The Tiger's Wife
"Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories: the story of the tiger's wife, and the story of the deathless man. These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life --- of my grandfather's days in the army; his great love for my grandmother; the years he spent as a surgeon and a tyrant of the University. One, which I learned after his death, is the story of how my grandfather became a man; the other, which he told to me, is of how he became a child again."
As a child, Natalia loved her grandfather dearly. She was his confidante and, in many ways, closer to him than even his wife. The special nature of their relationship was made apparent when Natalia was a little girl, and he shared secrets and treasured thoughts through the allegory of stories. They spent long hours reading from THE JUNGLE BOOK, and afterward, he replaced the well-worn book into his jacket pocket and led his granddaughter routinely to the zoo. Their prized destination was the exhibit of the great tiger, ferocious and undeniably wild. The beast inspired nothing but respect from both girl and man, neither of whom could bring themselves to fear or blame the creature, which brought images to mind of the immortal Shere Khan. Intertwined with these visions are legends of a tiger associated with her grandfather's youth, involving a female villager once named "The Tiger's Wife."
Regaling young Natalia with these stories, Grandfather also tells of a strange and inhuman fellow named Gavron Gailé, a man he encountered during his early days as a doctor, when Gailé had apparently drowned. Grandfather called him the Deathless Man but told no one of his existence except Natalia. She was fascinated as a child with these accounts that defied the laws of nature. But later it became difficult to accept, even coming from such a renowned physician and realist as her grandfather. Yet with her grandfather dead and gone, his body discovered mysteriously in a hostile area of the city where he never should have ventured at all, and with Germans bombarding these areas, Natalia questions his reasons and secrecy. In retrospect, she sees them as neither insanity nor nonsense, but connected to events surrounding the Deathless Man.
The book is less about the woman called "The Tiger's Wife" and more about the relationship of Natalia Stefanovic and her unusual grandfather. This is the story of his life and death, of their survival and methods for coping with continual war, of their reasons for choosing medicine as a profession, of the years they spent treating patients and showing reason in the face of nonsense, of how Natalia was finally left with a disturbing mystery to ponder concerning his death and secrets. Following Natalia with her grandfather becomes a kind of magic for the reader, tying the man inexplicably and inevitably to a wild tiger and village legends.
With simple beginnings, Téa Obreht frames her exotic tale beautifully. The novel is not written in a linear format, nor is it ordinary writing. THE TIGER'S WIFE is legendary, a story made up of smaller stories that, when taken together, becomes a complicated account of war intertwined with local village lore. The language is pictorially vivid, the writing the kind that picks you up from the written page until words become greater and the reader envisions herself present, seeing events as they unfold.
Obreht's characters are by no means run-of-the-mill, and her subjects are unusual. This is a thoughtful and interesting book, albeit complicated and sometimes relentlessly violent. It has all the characteristics of great literature. Along with strong perspectives on war and the uglier sides of human behavior, readers experience interesting perceptions about different cultures and legends. Anyone who appreciates a unique read or quality writing should love THE TIGER'S WIFE.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on October 31, 2011
The Tiger's Wife
- Publication Date: March 8, 2011
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Random House
- ISBN-10: 0385343833
- ISBN-13: 9780385343831