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The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife

Book rating: 05 Paperback

By (author) Tea Obreht

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'Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs...' A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic - Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book. Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather's death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery. From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realises he may have died searching for 'the deathless man', a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger's wife.

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Author information

Tea Obreht was born in 1985 in the former Yugoslavia, emigrating to the US in 1997. She was the youngest author on The New Yorker's Top 20 Writers under 40 List, and one of the youngest authors ever to be extracted in the magazine. Her short story, 'The Laugh', debuted in The Atlantic Fiction Issue and was then chosen for The Best American Short Stories 2010, while her short story, 'The Sentry' appeared in the Guardian Summer Fiction Issue alongside stories by Hilary Mantel and David Mitchell. She lives in New York.

Customer reviews

By Marianne Vincent 20 Jul 2014 5

The Tiger's Wife is the first novel by Serbian-born American author, Tea Obrecht, and is the winner of the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction. Young doctor, Natalia Stefanovic is on an assignment with her life-long friend Zora to innoculate the children of a remote Balkan village orphanage when she learns of her grandfather's death. Her grandmother believes he was on his way to meet Natalia, is distraught that he died alone in a town none of them recognises, and that his belongings are missing. As she tries to come to terms with the loss of a man who loomed large in her life, Natalia is distracted from her medical duties by memories of her grandfather and also by the strange digging activities in a nearby vineyard. Obrecht employs three narrative strands: Natalia relates what happens on her vaccination excursion; her grandfather, a well-respected doctor, tells of his three encounters with a deathless man; and Natalia chronicles the events of a certain winter in World War Two, when the village her grandfather grew up in was visited by a tiger. In each of the narrations, secondary characters are elegantly given backstories so that a collection of short stories is seamlessly woven into the whole. Obrecht's characters are interesting and authentic and her descriptive prose is wonderfully evocative: "Pigeons, clustered thick enough to be visible from the hill, shuffled like cowled women up and down the street.." Against a backdrop of seemingly ever-present war, Obrecht explores superstitions and customs, secrets and lies, fears and rituals, history and folklore, myths and mysteries, love and revenge, and of course, death. This moving and thought-provoking novel is an amazing debut. Readers will look forward to more from Obrecht.

Review quote

Tea Obreht is the most thrilling literary discovery in years. -- Colum McCann Beautifully executed, haunting and lyrical, The Tiger's Wife is an ambitious novel that succeeds on all counts. It's a book you will want to read again and again. THE INDEPENDENT The brilliant black comedy and matryoshka-style narrative are among the novel's great joys...Obreht has prodigious talent for storytelling and imagery -- Kapka Kassabova THE GUARDIAN Obreht's landscape hovers half in and half out of fable - where villagers who daily risk being hoisted by landmines also fear malign spirits, tigers' brides and men who transform into bears...It's a part of the world that Obreht has made her imagination's own: raucous and strange and gorgeous and rather haunting. This is a pretty formidable first novel. Here be tigers. -- Sam Leith FINANCIAL TIMES varied, poignant and beguilingly fantastical...The Tiger's Wife is an exciting, fast-paced and mystical novel that'll have you rushing to the end. TIME OUT (LONDON) One of the most extraordinary debut novels of recent memory...A gorgeous farrago of stories in which realism collides with myth, superstition with empirical fact, and allegory with history...Obreht elides the sentimental Chagall villages that other writers have made of Eastern Europe, crafting instead something far more ambitious, and universal: an apotheosis of storytelling as a bulwark against brutality - and a balm for grief VOGUE (USA)