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Book Review: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.

But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.

Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weekly trips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.

I really wanted to like Tea Obreht’s debut novel.  I thought, hey here is a girl not that much older than me publishing a novel that got rave reviews and isn’t my normal-of-late dystopian novel so I’ll probably like it.  I don’t know if it wasn’t just my cup of tea during the time I was reading it or if it just isn’t my cup of tea in general.  My bookclub voted to read this novel and I was looking forward to discussing it with them but, of course, my job kept me away and I missed out on hearing what everyone else had to say.  I prefer to go to bookclub when I didn’t jive with the book as opposed to when I did because I feel my ears are more open.  I love listening to people share what made them fall in love with a read and having my eyes opened to something new.  Now, admittedly I read this book over the span of 2 months while traveling a lot and never sat down for a long stretch of time to read so I think I missed out on the flow of the text.  With that said…

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht weaves a complex tale of secrets, death, myth, folklore, and the relationship between humans and animals.  Through the narrator, Natalia, we meet her famed physician grandfather who raises her on stories of the Tiger’s Wife and the deathless man, her best friend Zora who joins her on a medical mission that takes them over the border to their wartime “enemies” where they meet: a friar whose brother’s death holds many secrets, his parents who are the key to those secrets, and workers tearing apart a vineyard in search of their family member’s body.  Through her journey across the border, Natalia finally learns the secrets of her grandfather’s mysterious disappearance and location of his death and begins to understand more about the reasons behind his childhood stories.

Obreht shows a lot of constraint in not explaining every little detail which often serves to frustrate the reader rather than inspire them.  At times I did want a little more detail but understood her reasons for not spelling everything out.  It served to make me feel what Natalia was feeling: constant frustration and confusion over her grandfather’s mysterious ways.  Obreht also manages to seamlessly go between Natalia’s present and the grandfather’s past, sometimes a little too seamlessly where I forgot which “world” I was in.  And while in the grandfather’s childhood, we are also taken into the worlds of some of the citizens of his hometown.  All of Obreht’s tales serve to drive the reader further into the mysteries of the tiger and it’s relationship to Natalia’s grandfather.

Where my dissatisfaction lies is in my own inability to understand where Obreht was going and the reasons behind the story.  This is where bookclub would have come in handy.  I definitely feel that The Tiger’s Wife deserves more time and attention than I was able to give it and I plan to one day return to its pages.

I’d say if you want to think, then this is a number 1 recommend.  If you don’t want to think, don’t bother.  For me, I rate it a number 2 recommend.

 

Feature and Follow Friday

Two posts in one day!  Aren’t you all so lucky…

I have fallen off the track of writing about what I read in this blog so I decided to join this Feature and Follow from Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  I found out about the FF by reading A Midsummer Night’s Read.  Each week the two bloggers host a Feature and Follow all in the righteous effort to gain more followers for everyone and to exposed to more and more delicious reads!  So without further ado… my first Feature and Follow post:

Q: Have you ever looked at book’s cover and thought, This is going to horrible? But, was instead pleasantly surprised? Show us the cover and tell us about the book.


This could be a popular choice or a much contested choice but it was the first one that came to mind for me!  I read Hunger Games when it was first published and only because a friend convinced me because she knew I loved dystopian and I loved YA.  At first glance, the cover is boring, dark, and lacks any real illustration that outlines the story inside.  So I was pretty skeptical.  The wonderful thing about this cover is it is one of those covers that makes you think.  Once you finish The Hunger Games and take time to wonder why the cover is what it is, you realize that it is dark, and empty, and a little depressing for a reason.  You realize that the strange gold bird on the cover is a Mockingjay and that it becomes the symbol of the trilogy.  That is the beauty of this deceiving cover: it is not until you delve into the book and reflect that you realize the reasons behind the illustration.

There you have it!  My first Feature and Follow.  Quick and painless.  Be sure to follow the hosts at Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  And don’t forget to read all of the other entries from the other wonderful bloggers!

To follow me, click the “sign me up” button on the right!

To join in this week’s Feature and Follow, click here!

Might I Suggest…

It’s been a while since I’ve written a book post.  I’ve been juggling multiple books at once so I thought I would write a general suggestion post instead of a post focused on just one book.

Quick, Easy Reads

-          The Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella.  You’re probably familiar with the hilarious movie starring Isla Fisher.

Confessions of a Shopaholic

The books are even funnier.  They follow Becky Bloomwood on her adventures as a twenty-something trying to make a living in London.  Along the way she gets herself into many tough situations because of her fibbing habit and her desire to appear more than she is, with her shopping obsession being the number one cause of all her problems.  The series begins with single Becky in London and moves on to see her move to New York, get married, and have a baby.  Admittedly I haven’t finished the series yet because I’m saving the rest of the books for when I need a quick read with plenty of laughs.

-          Romance novels.  Can’t help it.  They allow you to escape to a world that never existed while not judging you for pretending like they could.  Through both undergrad and grad school I used romance novels as a way to relax after reading the heavy texts required for my courses.  My favorite authors are Julia Quinn and Julie Garwood.

Young Adult

The young adult genre is marketed towards the young adult crowd (generally 14-21) but appeals to readers of all ages because it deals with everyday issues every person has experienced.

-          Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter series

I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I love the HP family.  Books and movies.  For me it goes beyond a wizard fighting another wizard to the death.  I see connections to bigger world events, such as the Holocaust.  English majors can’t really help seeing more than what might be there!  However, since I started reading the series before graduating high school I’ll say that what first appealed to me was that even though the characters have magical powers and the ability to kill and bring life with a stick of wood, they are still fighting the same battles we are.  They still deal with bullying, friendship, awkwardness, school, authority, love.  The characters, at their core, are the same as you and me.

-          The Hunger Games trilogy.

The Hunger Games

Again, not everyone’s cup of joe, but I love them.  My brother recently asked me if they were girly and, as a girl, I had a hard time answering that.  I’d like to say no, because I know that they appeal to both boys and girls, but the novels center around a love triangle, which is characteristically a girly-theme.  But I think the trilogy appeals to boys because of the “fight to the death” basis of the Hunger Games.  I know this trilogy appeals to everyone because my 12-year-old cousin Matthew was reading them, which then got my 82-year-old Grandma interested.  I was reading them at the same time and realized people I graduated with were obsessed with the trilogy too.  So go on, read them.  And good news!  For those of you who like a movie to go along with your book, the first movie is coming out Spring 2012 and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth (yum), Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, and more!

-          The Matched Trilogy.

Matched by Allie Condie

I just started reading these.  The first novel (Matched) and the second (Crossed) are out.  I have no idea when the third is coming out, but it’s fun to wait!  This trilogy is not as good as the Hunger Games, but it’s quick and keeps you guessing.  Matched is definitely a girly series so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to my brother, but if you’re in the mood for something quick, not too challenging, and interesting, then you should try it.  However, don’t be waiting for any literary genius or theory connections in this trilogy.  I haven’t found them yet.

-           Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.  I read this in grad school for and ecofeminism class and instantly fell in love.  I just learned now that it is the first in a two-novel series.  I think I’ll have to get the second.  Parable follows Lauren, a minister’s daughter, as she travels across America after her community was ruined by social chaos.  Along the way she picks up followers and so begins a journey for survival.  If you’re into dystopian novels like I am, then this is a must read.

Victorian Novels

If you want to start reading Victorian novels, might I suggest these…

-          Daniel Deronda by George Elliot.  By far my favorite novel.  By far not the best novel to start with if you’ve never read Victorian novels.  It is tough to get through and, sticking to the Victorian novel rules, very long.  But I love it and that should be enough to make you want to read it.

-          Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.  Hardy takes a hard look at the sexual hypocrisy of Victorian England by sharing Tess’s story.  Tess comes from a poor family who, after learning of their connection to wealthy d’Urbervilles, sends Tess to claim a portion.  Tess is seduced and then bears a child in secret who dies in infancy.  After she finds love and solace in another man, he abandons her on their wedding night after learning of her past.  Hardy takes Tess through a series of passionate events that lead her to her escape from her past.  This novel is a good one to start with because it doesn’t have the rigidity of most Victorian novels.  Instead, it takes that rigidity and incorporates it into the novel by throwing it back in its face.

-          Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  Who doesn’t love a female protagonist, secret love-affair, and crazy people?

Biographies

I was never interested in history and was always my worst subject in school.  My Mom would get my historical novels to try and get me to learn, and it worked.  Recently I started getting into reading biographies of females.  I started with Marie Antoniette which was inspired by Sofia Coppola’s movie.  Then I moved on to Elizabeth I.  And now I am about to start The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

Biographies can be hard to read unless you find your perfect author.  Mine is Antonia Frasier.  She has a way of writing biographies that reads more like a story and not so much like a history text.  Allow me to suggest Frasier’s Marie Antoinette.  I’ll let you know if I suggest The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

Hopefully that gave you some ideas for your next read.  I’ll keep adding to this!