Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

I found my reaction to The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht more interesting than the book itself.  I’ll explain later, but first I’ll tell you about the The Tiger’s Wife, which isn’t about a tiger’s wife.

Set in 1990's Serbia, the story vaguely reflects Obreht's childhood that was impacted somewhat by the Yugoslavian civil war. An observation about the book that apparently resonated with lots of readers, as it appeared over and over again in reviews, goes something like this: “The Tiger’s Wife is about the stories we tell ourselves to help us understand death.” I’m not sure if that statement is so much an accurate theme of the book as it is just a catchy phrase.

Natalia, a young doctor, is notified that her grandfather, with whom she had a very close relationship, has died “mysteriously.” The story weaves in and out of the present and the past as Natalia looks for clues as to her grandfather’s death.  In the process, she relates her grandfather’s tale about a man he met who would not die, and that of an escaped zoo tiger that haunted the grandfather's childhood village.  And that is pretty much the book, which is #1 of the several reasons I found my reaction to The Tiger's Wife more interesting than the book.

#2 – It seems that once a book wins one award, more fall like dominos. As if critics don’t want to be the one to not recognize brilliance. I, and half the world, fell for the lavish praise of Obreht and her book. But when you look at the average Jane’s reviews, they are all over the place with lots of comments indicating that the reviews and recommendations were misleading. I too spent most of the book looking for the promise of “channeled genius,” “astonishing intimacy” and a “searing” novel. Click On Read More Below...

#3 – I found it peculiar that Natalia’s grandfather’s stories were imaginative, while Natalia’s story about her grandfather‘s stories was boring.

#3 – I kept looking back at the photo of Obreht, who looks 12 (pictured), and thinking how could someone her age have such an extensive vocabulary, and wondering why this bothered me so much.  On the other hand, although Obreht could string words like nobody’s business, pretty sentences unaccompanied by a point are apparently just less than I need and expect.

#4 – I found it annoying that I was so annoyed by most of this book. For example, the grandfather constantly carried a copy of Kipling's The Jungle Book in his pocket, and this was repeatedly brought up, but we never find out the significance. And Natalia seems mystified by her Grandfather's death, and yet she tells us early on that he is dying of cancer.

So you see, my review is more about my reaction to my reaction to the book than my reaction to the book, which is about as confusing as the book. So let me just bottom line it here and say, don't bother reading The Tiger's Wife because it will just bother you that it bothers you, and that's no fun.

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