four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
By: 
Tea Obreht
user_rating: 
0

A-The Tigers WifeBorn in the former Yugoslavia in 1985, acclaimed short story writer Téa Obreht, the youngest writer to be named in the New Yorker's "20 under 40," has lived in the United States since the age of 12. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic, Harper's, and the New Yorker. The Tiger's Wife is her highly anticipated debut novel.

The Story: While delivering much-needed vaccines to orphans in an unnamed, civil war-ravaged Balkan country, young pediatrician Natalia Stefanovi receives news of her beloved grandfather's mysterious death in an isolated village far from his home. Determined to understand what prompted him to make this strange, final journey, Natalia reconstructs his final days, sifts through the details of his life, and recalls the mesmerizing stories, relayed to her as a child, that defined him--tales of his repeated encounters with an immortal man and of the escaped tiger that prowled the hills above his childhood village during the winter of 1941. "Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between [these] two stories," she explains.
Random House. 338 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780385343831

Chicago Sun-Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"With passion and intelligence, Téa Obreht fuses mystery, middle-European myth and the dismal realities of civil war to bring The Tiger's Wife, her amazing first novel, to life. ... A compelling, persuasive writer, Obreht brings improbable elements to life on the page. Better, she makes them snap together with such magical skill that even the skeptical reader believes." Kit Reed

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The stories Natalia recalls are full of supernatural creatures like the deathless man, a mild-mannered type who always knows when somebody is going to die, but The Tiger's Wife doesn't veer into magic realism. Instead, Obreht uses the tales to create a climate of wonder and horror right out of a fairy tale." Yvonne Zipp

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"What makes Obreht's mythmaking so powerful is that she never loses sight of the flesh-and-blood Balkan reality that inspires it and gives it texture. ... Whether she is unspooling the compelling back story of one of the villagers or describing an off-kilter Belgrade on the brink of war, Obreht's evocation of place calls to mind Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Toni Morrison--two truly magical realists who, not surprisingly, are among Obreht's favorite living writers." Mike Fischer

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Obreht, who was born in the former Yugoslavia and is, astonishingly, only 25, writes with remarkable authority and eloquence, and she demonstrates an uncommon ability to move seamlessly between the gritty realm of the real and the more primary-colored world of the fable. ... Ms. Obreht has not only made a precocious debut, but she has also written a richly textured and searing novel." Michiko Kakutani

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In The Tiger's Wife, Obreht weaves the old man's richly colored reminiscences like silk ribbons through the spare frame of Natalia's modern coming-of-age, a coming-of-age that coincides, as her grandfather's had, with a time of political upheaval. ... Filled with astonishing immediacy and presence, fleshed out with detail that seems firsthand, The Tiger's Wife is all the more remarkable for being the product not of observation but of imagination." Liesl Schillinger

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While her story brims with passion and gorgeous language, it can have trouble keeping up with itself. Obreht's bottomless imagination sometimes runs away from her, leaving a reader dazzled but unsure how it all adds up. The novel's disparate parts never quite interlock, blunting the emotional impact." Tricia Springstubb

Critical Summary

It's difficult to believe that The Tiger's Wife, "that most elemental yet fantastic creation: a story about stories" (Cleveland Plain Dealer), is a 25-year-old writer's first novel--the first of many, one hopes. Critics lavishly praised Obreht's dazzling prose, her seamless commingling of harsh realism and whimsy, and her ability to evoke the ravages of war as if she had experienced them firsthand. She paints an unforgettably vivid portrait of a land devastated by conflict and social upheaval as she explores the power of storytelling and "the ways in which narratives ... reveal--and reflect back--the identities of individuals and communities" (New York Times). Authoritative, absorbing, and eloquent, The Tiger's Wife marks the emergence of an extraordinary new voice in fiction.