Monday, March 7, 2011

A Debut Adored By TC Staff

Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation.

In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.

But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.

Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weeklytrips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.

See the author's MFA reading of a piece of The Tiger's Wife, still in progress.

Jeannie says:
"Obreht, who was born in Belgrade in 1985 and immigrated to the U.S. at age 12, has written a stunning novel set in the Baltic region during and after the recent conflicts. She interweaves the story of her beloved grandfather and his meetings with the mysterious "deathless man", his lifelong enchantment with a tiger and "the tiger's wife", along with her efforts to uncover the details of his death. Her grandfather's stories help her and the reader to understand the longstanding cultural and spiritual crosscurrents of the region. Reminiscent of Marquez and Allende, her literary voice is very accomplished, compelling and uniquely her own. She is also included in the paperback 20 UNDER 40 in new pap. fiction.I highly recommended this novel. You won't be disappointed."

Joe says:
"It has been a while since I've read a novel like this one, a novel that consumes the reader in its world. The Tiger's Wife takes place in an unnamed Balkan country, ravaged by years of wars, both international and civil. A country torn apart by religious and ethnic hatreds, despite the different factions' joint history. The story takes place through the eyes of Natalia, a young doctor helping out at an orphanage across the border who finds out her beloved grandfather has died. His death is surrounded in confusion and mystery. Natalia begins a search to find her grandfather's belongings, that leads to stories of his youth, most notably the stories of 'the deathless man' and 'the tiger's wife'.

With echoes of magical realism, Balkan folklore and the lives of a people long under the shadow of war, The Tiger's Wife is unlike anything else I have read in a long time. It kind of reminds me of Orhan Pamuk or Mario Vargas Llosa. Tea Obreht's writing is immediate and mesmerizing. I think this book would be an excellent choice for bookclubs, folks who would like to read about a region of the world they may not have, or those who love a well-told tale."

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