As an avid lover of stories, it is my mission to find and search for books that provide stories that would give readers a lot to ponder as well as getting readers lost in to the world of those stories at the same time. For me, we don’t really get a lot of memorable, engaging stories written and told by authors of our younger generation as much as seasoned and renowned writers of our modern time, however with the discovery of Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, history has been made.
Obreht is a Belgrade-born American novelist who began writing the future story of The Tiger’s Wife as a graduate student of Cornell University. Drawing from her childhood memories with her grandfather visiting the zoo while living in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, Obreht crafted an elaborately clever yet very imaginative story that mixes reality and folklore altogether. In short, The Tiger’s Wife’s core tone would remind us of a good, balanced mix of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Rudyard Kipling with a touch of modern, contemporary fiction in between. Some may call this novel another form of magical realism, while others simply call it a stunning, clever piece of writing. For me, I simply call it an ambitious, imaginative contemporary literature that brings plenty of magic to the hungry reader.
The Tiger’s Wife, taking place in an unnamed country in the Balkans, is about a young doctor named Natalia, who is on a trek to search for clues regarding her grandfather’s recent death. She recalls fragmented memories of her time with her grandfather as a child, revealing to us her grandfather’s wisdom and his penchant for telling stories; in particular, the story of the deathless man and the story her grandfather never told her, which is the story of the tiger’s wife. As a reminiscent of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, and the novel I’m currently reading, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge gives us a mesh of three stories: Natalia’s quest with an orphanage as a doctor, her grandfather’s encounters with the deathless man, and the story of a young deaf-mute Muslim girl — whom the villagers referred to as the tiger’s wife — who befriended a loose tiger .
I admit that, by the first half of the novel, I got myself completely confused and mixed up to the extent that I couldn’t tell, or rather capture the flow of the entire plot. One or two chapters are related to one story, and then the next few chapters became completely different from the previous chapters. At that time I began to question regarding the author’s aim for writing different, separate stories with different plots and themes. My first guess was that eventually, close to the end, all of these three stories will come together and become one plot. In the end, I realized that Natalia’s grandfather’s stories actually parallel that of her own present life. Her grandfather’s youth and Natalia’s youth are quite comparable, as well as both their adult lives being doctors.
The Tiger’s Wife has been shortlisted in many major literary awards including the National Book Award, but Obreht won the prestigious Orange Prize for her debut novel. The novel was also listed as one of 2011’s Top Ten Best Books by The New York Times Book Review. Obreht herself was also named by The New Yorker as one of the twenty best American fiction writers under 40 and also in the National Book Foundation’s list of 5 Under 25. Although I mentioned before that the first half of the novel may somewhat discourage you from further reading due to its complexity and the unorthodox flow of the chapters, everything comes together right at the second half.
Colombia already has Gabriel Garcia Marquez as their voice of magical realism. America finally has Tea Obreht as a voice of a brand-new generation of writers in magical realism form. The Tiger’s Wife shouldn’t be ignored or overlooked if you are looking for fresh contemporary literature that would eventually become a true classic for future generations. I look forward to Obreht’s future works, her rise in her brand-new career and her ability to make her mark as one of the most notable authors in American literature.