Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

Maybe by admitting I didn't really like (or understand the point of) this book I'll reveal myself as a shallow reader of allegory.  But I do like other writers of magical realism (e.g. Allende) and somehow this book didn't hold my attention.  I only finished it because I hoped to find some point to the two loosely related allegories (those of the "deathless man" and the "tiger's wife").  The straightforward part of the story is about a young female doctor and her friend from the "City" - probably the author's native Belgrade - who travel across the new border following the Balkan war to inoculate orphans.  En route her grandmother calls to say her beloved grandfather has died alone in an unknown village to which he's travelled when he said he was planning to meet up with his granddaughter.  The granddaughter is the only one in the family who knows he was dying of cancer but she did not know he was planning to meet her (and does not believe he really was).  She finds out that he died not far from where she is and sets out to retreat his belongings.  While inoculating the orphans she also encounters a strange group of "diggers" who are digging up a vineyard to find the remains of a dead relative who was abandoned there during the war as they think he is cursing their children with illness.  This story, strange enough on its own, is interwoven with tales of her grandfather's encounters with the nephew of death who has been "condemned" to eternal life for saving a lover from death.  Her grandfather had shared these stories with her over the years.  In addition there is the story of the tiger's wife in the village in which her grandfather was raised which she pieces together on her own, in part to explain his obsession with tigers in the zoo and carrying around the Jungle Book in his coat pocket for his whole life (which book is no longer with his belongings after his death).

Maybe one day I'll hear about this at a book club and understand it better but for now I'm left shaking my head and trying to figure out what I've just read.  Feel free to explain if you got it...

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