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The Tiger's Wifeby Tea Obreht
2011 Orange Prize Winner
The postwar chaos in the Balkans provides the backdrop for Obreht's superbly crafted debut. A young physician seeks to unravel the mystery that surrounds both her grandfather's death and the mystifying Deathless Man he encountered throughout his adult life. Mesmerizing and wholly original, The Tiger's Wife is a profoundly rewarding read.
Part mystery, part folktale, part dark fable, The Tiger's Wife is wholly original. Set in the Balkans, this atmospheric novel follows a young doctor who works in an orphanage and has just lost her grandfather. Trying to make sense of his death, Natalia begins to unravel the meaning behind twin folktales The Deathless Man and The Tiger's Wife, both unbelievable yet seemingly true that seem to be entwined with her grandfather's life and death. Told again and again to Natalia by her grandfather, these stories of his youth become her stories, as well; every opaque and muddy sentence becomes a link to her grandfather. Obreht is the youngest author named as one of the New Yorker's Best 20 Writers Under 40, as well as the National Book Foundation's Best 5 Under 35. At 25, her ability to write The Tiger's Wife is astonishing. A seasoned and mature writer would be hard pressed to match the scope and lyricism of Obreht's debut book. Moody, pensive, and shadowy, yet at the same time positively radiant, The Tiger's Wife should not be missed.
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"The sometimes crushing power of myth, story, and memory is explored in the brilliant debut of Obreht, the youngest of the New Yorker's 20-under-40. Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living (and, in between suspensions, practicing) in an unnamed country that's a ringer for Obreht's native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about the death of her beloved grandfather, who raised her on tales from the village he grew up in, and where, following German bombardment in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo in a nearby city and befriended a mysterious deaf-mute woman. The evolving story of the tiger's wife, as the deaf-mute becomes known, forms one of three strands that sustain the novel, the other two being Natalia's efforts to care for orphans and a wayward family who, to lift a curse, are searching for the bones of a long-dead relative; and several of her grandfather's stories about Gavran GailÃ©, the deathless man, whose appearances coincide with catastrophe and who may hold the key to all the stories that ensnare Natalia. Obreht is an expert at depicting history through aftermath, people through the love they inspire, and place through the stories that endure; the reflected world she creates is both immediately recognizable and a legend in its own right. Obreht is talented far beyond her years, and her unsentimental faith in language, dream, and memory is a pleasure. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"[A] brilliant debut…[Tea] Obreht is an expert at depicting history through aftermath, people through the love they inspire, and place through the stories that endure; the reflected world she creates is both immediately recognizable and a legend in its own right. Obreht is talented far beyond her years, and her unsentimental faith in language, dream, and memory is a pleasure." Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Dizzyingly nuanced yet crisp, [and] muscularly written…This complex, humbling, and beautifully crafted debut from one of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 is highly recommended for anyone seriously interested in contemporary fiction." Library Journal, Starred Review
"Deftly walks the line between the realistic and the fantastical…In Obreht's expert hands, the novel’s mythology, while rooted in a foreign world, comes to seem somehow familiar, like the dark fairy tales of our own youth, the kind that spooked us into reading them again and again…[Reveals] oddly comforting truths about death, belief in the impossible, and the art of letting go." O: The Oprah Magazine
"A novel of surpassing beauty, exquisitely wrought and magical. Tea Obreht is a towering new talent." T. C. Boyle
When The New Yorker ran an excerpt of The Tiger's Wife in its 2009 Fiction issue, it was clear an astonishing new talent had arrived in the world of contemporary fiction.
The time: the present. The place: a Balkan country ravaged by years of conflict. Natalia, a young doctor, is on a mission of mercy to an orphanage when she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death far from their home under circumstances shrouded in confusion. Remembering childhood stories her grandfather once told her, Natalia becomes convinced that he spent his last days searching for "the deathless man," a vagabond who claimed to be immortal. As Natalia struggles to understand why her grandfather, a deeply rational man, would go on such a farfetched journey, she stumbles across a clue that leads her to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.
An involving mystery, an emotionally riveting family story, and a wondrous evocation of an unfamiliar world, The Tiger's Wife is a brilliant novel.
About the Author
Téa Obreht was born in Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia in 1985 and has lived in the United States since the age of twelve. Her writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's, and The Guardian, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Non-required Reading. She has been named by The New Yorker as one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty and included in the National Book Foundation's list of 5 Under 35. Téa Obreht lives in New York.
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