book review: The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

The Tiger's Wife: A NovelThe 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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  1. It looks like we agreed on this one!

  2. I was generous and gave this a 4/5, but found it a tough and sometimes slow read.

  3. I have read a lot of tepid reviews on this one, and it's interesting to see where everyone falls in relation to loving or hating it. I don't think this would work for me, because I usually need my magical realism to be pretty tight, and it sounds like that was not the case here. I am sorry to hear that it wasn't as great as you had been hoping it to be.

  4. I have been reading the reviews on this one with interest because I was one of the readers who loved everything about this novel! It looks like those who aren't loving it, are having a problem with the stories within stories part...which is funny, because, for me, that was what elevated the novel past just another war story about grief :) And usually I steer a wide berth away from magical realism! These kinds of books are always interesting to me because they seem to polarize readers. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Obreht's writing is gorgeous. I'll be looking forward to seeing what she writes next!

  5. Yours is the first not-swoon-y review I've read, and I appreciate your honest comments. I like magical realism but not magic-magic -- I'll have to see how this falls for me.

  6. You know, it's kind of interesting that you liked Natalia's parts, because those were the scenes that dragged the book down a little for me. It was the subtlety that I loved, the magical realism, the stories and the atmosphere. Natalia bored me as a character and her story felt a little bland to me. It goes to show how different readers react to different aspects of the same books, drawn to certain things more than others...

  7. I'm sorry this one didn't work for you! Because this one won the Orange Prize I want to read it but I'll have to set my sights low ...

  8. I pretty much agreed with you on this one. I found that admired the excellent writing more than I actually loved the book as a whole.

  9. I really struggle with magical realism. I don't know if it means I have a very thin imagination or what.. but that's the only thing keeping me from trying this book.

  10. I'm very intrigued to read your take on this title, and all your followers' comments.

    I've added "Nomadreader" to my "Blogs of Substance" list. I know my readers will enjoy your blog as much as I have.

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

  11. I agree.. The writing was beautiful but I just didn't "get" it by the end.


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