In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather's recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with "the deathless man". But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her -- the legend of the tiger's wife.
~Print copy, 338 pages
Published: 2011 by Random House
(Just to inform you, Tea Obreht actually has an accent over the e in Tea, but I don't know how to type such a thing in a blog post.)
Let me tell you first what I THOUGHT this novel would be like. I thought it would be this Natalia actively searching for the clues through the book, where we learn the story of the tiger's wife and the deathless man and her grandfather's death in bits and pieces, as she does.
In actuality, this book reads more as a memoir. At first, I was confused, because I honestly thought this was a memoir when I thought it was fiction, but no. It's fiction.This book annoyed me for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it sounds like a memoir.
The book starts off with a memory of her when she was young, visiting the zoo to look at the tigers. This is innocent enough. The next chapter switches over to her in the "present day", where she is taking medicine to orphans across the border of who-knows-what into who-knows-where. (Names of these countries weren't mentioned.)
What irked me the most, is that while there is plenty of detail into secondary and even tertiary characters' back stories (this actually accounted for a lot if not most of the book), there isn't much about the present day. The city where she lives is just that -- The City. I don't understand what this "war" is about, why it's torn this country into two countries, and quite frankly, I'd have been more interested in the war than in this Natalia.
Also, she doesn't piece together the story of the tiger's wife -- she spoon-feeds us it. It was a sort of, "Let's jump forward in time; now that I've gathered together the pieces, here's how that story played out..." This was confusing, because it was jumbled together with the present-day, the flashback of her own life, and the back story of the characters in the tiger's story.
The present-day actually isn't focused on: not her grandfather's death, which is written off as a misunderstanding, not her grief or her work, not even of her gathering information. This accounts for the least number of pages in the entire book. It's mostly flashbacks and telling us (rather than showing) the stories of the deathless man and the tiger's wife.
With all that said and done, I didn't mind the stories themselves. I preferred the tiger's wife and the deathless man over the main character of the book. The back stories were amusing (to my eye; most people might think of them as touching/tragic), but really, it wasn't necessary to hear the sob story of Luka the abusive butcher. Also, nothing wring with the writing grammar-wise, or physically wrong (as with all those sentence, phrase, setting, etc stuffs). It was more emotionally wrong; invested in the wrong part of the story.
This really only pulled through for me on those stories and the last paragraph on the last page. It's pretty much the reason I didn't set it down and walk away.
Overall, though I hate to say this, I started this with high hopes and was disappointed. It felt only loosely organized, and most of it was spoon-feeding me the stories. I don't know if this was because I'm used to YA and this is an adult novel, or if it's just the way it's written.
Now, let me tell you that this is completely subjective. I am responsible for my opinions, yes, but I am not responsible for your reactions to them. You may love this novel to death, but it's just not my type. As I said, there isn't anything "wrong" with this story, I just felt it was awfully off-course.
I give this 2.5 stars, but I'm nice enough to round up.