In The Tiger’s Wife, Téa Obreht weaves together fantastic tales filled with folklore and a bit of magical realism. Natalia and Zora are two young doctors, traveling to a remote village to administer vaccinations to local children. It’s shortly after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and political/religious tensions are still high. Just before leaving home, Natalia learns her beloved grandfather passed away while on a journey far from home. Her grandmother is justifiably distraught. She was unable to be with her husband at his death, and she doesn’t understand what he was doing in the place where he was found.
Natalia mourns silently; she doesn’t even confide in Zora. Her grandfather, also a doctor, was clearly a mentor and role model. As Natalia remembers visits she and her grandfather made to the zoo, she begins retelling stories he passed down to her, mostly about his life and the people of his village. The stories read like folk tales. The end of one story often led to another, to flesh out a particular character even further. This put me off at first, because I kept wanting to get back to Natalia, Zora, and the village. I struggled a bit with the magical realism in stories featuring “the deathless man,” but I persevered and enjoyed them more than I thought I would.
I really wanted to love this book, but in the end I simply liked it. I spent the first half of the book frustrated, unsure where it was going. Then I got swept up in one of the stories and thought, “now we’re cooking, I’m really going to like this!” I found the connections between stories interesting, and became emotionally invested in some of the characters. Unfortunately, I was unable to hold onto those feelings. Téa Obreht is clearly a talented writer, and despite my feelings about this book I’m looking forward to watching her career and reading more of her work.