The backstory: The Tiger's Wife won the 2011 Orange Prize. Tea Obreht is also one of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40.
The basics: Part exploration of grief, part war novel, and part fairy tale, The Tiger's Wife defies a basic synopsis.
My thoughts: I really wanted to love The Tiger's Wife. Initially, I did love it. I was captivated by Natalia, a young doctor who travels with a friend to inoculate children in an orphanage in the war-torn Balkans. I think if the novel would have stayed with Natalia and her personal quest to understand why her grandfather left home to die, then I would have loved it. As an exploration of grief, I was moved.
I lost interest, however, in the rampant side stories and symbolism. I fully acknowledge for every symbol I got, there were likely many more I missed. Still, the novel lost me when the magical realism veered too far to the magic rather than the realism. I don't have anything against magical realism, per se, but I struggled with the shifting sensibilities of reality in this novel. I will buy into the world of a novel, but when the world of its characters shifts so dramatically, I start thinking as a critic rather than a reader. I don't want to be pulled out of a narrative when I'm in one. As a critic, I respect Tea Obreht and her talents immensely, but as a reader, I simply didn't love it.
Favorite passage:"Once separate, the pieces that made up our old county no longer carried the same characteristics that had formerly represented their respective parts of the whole. Previously shared things--landmarks, writers, scientists, histories--had to be doled out according to their new owners. That Nobel Prize-winner was no longer ours, but theirs; we named our airport after our crazy inventor, who was no longer a communal figure. And all the while we told ourselves that everything would eventually return to normal."
The verdict: Despite adoring Obreht's writing, the novel as a whole was hit or miss for me. I enjoyed parts of it but was bored by other parts. Overall, brilliant writing wasn't enough to make me love this novel, but it will leave me eagerly awaiting the next novel Tea Obreht writes.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: March 8, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle
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