I bought The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht during the summer but did not read it until December… I had started it but it did not hold my attention at once and so I moved on to other books, life got busy and I forgot I had this. It is easier to forget you have a book when it is on an e-reader rather than staring you in the face from a bookshelf… unless you have too many bookshelves (but that is another story).
So, The Tiger’s Wife… Much has been written about this book given its prize-winning fame, and many good summaries of it have been published so I won’t attempt one. I had bought it because it was sitting on bestseller lists, which I don’t often do. However, beyond an expectation of “something good” I had no clear idea of what I was getting into.
Here is how it starts:
In my earliest memory, my grandfather is balk as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers. He puts on his hat, his big-buttoned raincoat, and I wear my lacquered shoes and velvet dress. It is autumn, and I am four years old. The certainty of this process: my grandfather’s hand, the bright hiss of the trolley, the dampness of the morning, the crowded walk up the hill to the citadel park. Always in my grandfather’s breast pocket: The Jungle Book, with its gold-leaf cover and old yellow pages.
I like a good multi-threaded story and this one did not disappoint on that count: The grandfather’s story, the story of Luka, the story of the tiger, the story of the tiger’s wife, the story of the non-dying man, the story of Darisa the bear, as well as Natalia’s story, are all interwoven into a background of ethnic diversity and strife in the Balkans. Natalia, the narrator, tells us that the story of the tiger’s wife and the story of the deathless man are necessary to understanding the story of her grandfather, and sure enough, the story of the tiger’s wife is a critical part of his growing up, his understanding of human relationships and of community; the story of the deathless man shapes his understanding of the nature of fate and the meaning of personal history.
There are also recurring references to Kipling’s The Jungle Book. And given that I have recently been to see the cinematic version of the The Life of Pi, I can’t help searching for a parallel in the two “tiger” stories…
So the logical “follow-up reads” from this book would be Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Let’s see when I find the time to get to those given what is already in progress.
Obreht, Téa, The Tiger’s Wife, Random House, NY, 2011.