About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Friday, January 27, 2012

#5: The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht (New York: Random House, 2011)

"In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zora begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.

"But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather's recent death. After telling her grandmother he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.

"Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather's final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weekly trips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with 'the deathless man,' a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes even closer under cover of darkness. 'These stories,' Natalia comes to understand, 'run like secret rivers through all the other stories' of her grandfather's life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for."

Opening Line:
"In my earliest memories, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers."

My Take:
Beautifully written, yes, but either I didn't get it or there's just no "there" there. The frame story -- Natalia coping with her grandfather's death under strange circumstances -- has potential, but gets precious little airtime. Most of the novel is devoted to her recollecting stories her grandfather had passed on to her from the village in which he grew up. Perhaps there's some allegory here I'm missing, or maybe a touch of magical realism -- but unlike, say Oscar Wao, there wasn't enough supporting detail to make that clear, at least to me. Lovely use of language, but to what end?

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