The Tiger's Wife: A Novel

The Tiger's Wife - Téa Obreht I think many of the other reviewers before me so I will most likely be only rephrasing or repeating some of the former thoughts.

I heard about Tea Obreht's name being mentioned by The New Yorker "as one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty". Naturally this made me curious and interested to see just how good her writing really is to lead her to such high praise. After I saw her short praise for "The Night Circus" on the back of the dust jacket over a year ago I decided that it's a sign, and that I will, one day, pick up and read "The Tiger's Wife".

I feel more lucky that, unlike other reviewers, I cannot complain that I have lost too much time on this book as I mostly read it during my spare time in my classes on my Kobo ebook reader, so it did it's job of killing time. Sadly that was all it managed to do in the end - kill time.

Once again this book is an example of a misleading synopsis/jacket blurb that sets the reader up for a context that they don't really find in the actual book. I struggle with the time period and location of this book. As I am from a Slavic country the names of the people and cities right away made me filter through the possible locations for the story, but it was really only until I read about Obreht herself that I finally got a general context for the location. The same goes with the time period.

This book as an artistic mess, I would say - it's beautiful, but it's so difficult to disentangle everything that's going on that at one point I didn't try understanding the plot and went along with it, in fact skimming the last chapter as well as the 'epilogue' because I felt there was so much description and lead up that by skimming I could probably pick up the main points myself. And this leads me to, perhaps, the biggest problem of the book: the lengthy writing. I don't mind description, in fact I love it, such as in the case of Tolstoy's "War and Peace" or Morgenstern's "The Night Circus", but that's only if the plot actually gets somewhere. In this book it didn't. The writing is beautiful, it's a sign of just how much craft and talent the writer possesses and is probably the reason why The New Yorker wrote such a praise about her. The writing didn't make up for the jumble that was the plot itself. It could have been shortened or at least sounded slightly less wordy throughout the entire novel. Not only that, but I still fail to understand the overall picture the book tried to paint. It was a lot of stories and memories that were retold by Natalia, which were honestly my favourite parts of the book, but they felt disengaged from the remainder of the novel. I struggled the most through the 'present time' of the novel and enjoyed the stories of the tiger's wife, of the undead man, and some of the shorter memories or sidenotes that went on, although at one point they started to feel more like a tangent than an actual necessary part of the story.

Despite the skillful writing though I didn't engage with any of the characters. I didn't sympathize for them, or feel like they were real people/possess the characters of someone who could easily be real. The only thing that kept me reading was the fables that made the reading seem like much less of an aggravation than it already was and, honestly, the only reason why I really give this book 2 stars.

The book raised more questions unanswered and new ones raised than it did with answering them. I never really understood the whole point of Natalia reflecting on her grandfather's stories because they didn't seem to answer any of her questions about his death. Some characters, like Zora or her grandmother, I regarded as spacefillers who disappeared after a certain point and didn't complete the role which they were playing in the novel. The title is one thing that will stay the biggest mystery to me - why does it refer to her? Yes, the story of the tiger's wife was an interesting one, gripping in fact, but did it really have that great of an impact in order for it to be put as the title? I don't think so. The Jungle Book reference as well as the tiger's appearance throughout the book was more like an attempt to make this book feel more mystical or in the real of the fantastical than it was to actually deliver a point.

I don't regret reading this book but again, it was an ongoing battle in which the book lost in satisfying me and my unanswered questions, as well as left me wondering whether I really did miss something that amazing, or whether it is masquerading as something more than it really is.