The Tiger’s Wife


By Téa Obreht

The Short Take:

I loved reading this book but am not at all sure what to say about it in hindsight. It takes a magical realism approach to exploring the life of a prominent physician in the Balkans through war and peace. Every page was a joy to read, but somehow I was vaguely dissatisfied in the end.


Ostensibly this book is about a young woman doctor, Natalia, who is trying to piece together secrets from her grandfather’s past in order to better understand his death. To me, it was more about her grandfather’s life, from the people he grew up with, through the wars and the dissolution of his country (think Yugoslavia), and his life-changing encounters with a tiger, the tiger’s wife, and a deathless man.

Key characters of his childhood village are introduced then later given backstories which may or may not change how you feel about them. Death and war and the way people embrace or deny them are a constant theme. The writing is lyrical, the creativity obvious. But, somehow, the end felt flat footed compared to the rest of this wondrous novel. Don’t get me wrong — it’s still well worth reading. And it is surely quite possible that I just didn’t “get it.”

A Little Plot:

Natalie is carrying vaccines to an orphanage when she learns her grandfather has died in some remote village that no one has heard of. As she goes about her own tasks and strives to locate this village, she thinks back on tales her grandfather told her: a man he met who could not die; a tiger that roamed outside his village and befriended a deaf-mute girl; how he came to be a doctor.

She also reflects on their own shared past, from daily trips to the zoo to the distances that grew between them as she matured. The narrative vacillates between various times in the past and the present but is presented in such a way that is fairly easy to keep track of and keeps you wondering what happens next.

For more about the author, click here.

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May 2011