Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tiger's Wife

Tea Obreht's novel The Tiger's Wife was one of the Lemuria First Editions Club selections that appeared on my doorstep before I'd heard of it. After that though (as often happens with their selections), I began to hear lots of chatter from other readers. The story is told by Natalia, a young doctor, and by her grandfather (a physician himself), who tells her stories--or more precisely, variations of two stories--the deathless man and the tiger's wife.

Set in a Balkan country torn by war throughout history, often spurred on by religious and ethnic rivalries, the story intertwines factual details with myths and legends--as the best stories often do--and as a result, truth often trumps fact.

Having recently read two novels by Glen Cooper dealing with the impact of knowing one's time of death, I couldn't help making connections with this story, particularly the tale of the deathless man--a man cursed by immortality by his uncle Death. Because many of the stories told by Obreht's characters are told in fragments, the way we all tend to tell our family stories, the reader has the feeling of coming to the same story or even from many perspectives, particularly those of time.

The novel seems to be as much about secret-keeping as story-telling, often as a proof of love and loyalty as much as a means of self-protection. Something about this book makes me believe that its small, beautifully drawn details, its complex characters will stay with me for a long time.

I suspect, too, that I'll be turning to Kipling's Jungle Book soon--and not just the Disney version. After this book, The Graveyard Book, and The Jungle Law, I realize someone is telling me something.

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