The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obrecht

View from this book:

One day last summer, I was scheduled for a patrol day where I got to spend all day hiking; since I’d just hiked 30 miles in the past 3 days, I wasn’t too keen on going up a mountain, so I decided to take an easier stroll.  Since it was only 10 miles from the visitor center where I work to my house, I decided to spend the day hiking home.  After working for a few hours at the visitor center, I set out, chatting with visitors and gave out bear safety messages as I went.  It was a good 6 hours into my workday by the time I got to a place called Sky Ranch where a few of my coworkers live, which has a magnificent porch with an even more magnificent view.

Sky Ranch - a pie-in-the-sky place to live

Sky Ranch – a pie-in-the-sky place to live

I decided to take a good, long lunch break, and sat and read this book.  Three gripping hours later, I went back on the clock and hiked the 2 hours home.  Lucky me, now I live at Sky Ranch, and can have my pie-in-the-sky view every day for lunch:

Sky Ranch Porch View

Sky Ranch Porch View

The Book:

Who doesn’t love magical realism?  Who doesn’t love stories that wrestle with legacies of war and grounded human emotions?  Who doesn’t love oodles and oodles of descriptive adjectives and a tapestried focus on many different characters?  OK, I can actually think of a lot of readers who get very tired very quickly of too much description and too many minor characters.  I, on the other hand, am the type of reader who was ABSOLUTELY ENTHRALLED by books like, say, Redwall.  (Nectar-filled acorn cups, anyone?)  The Tiger’s Wife had an enchanting level of detail on a number of subjects that didn’t seem to ever further the plot, but I still ate it up.

Oh, yes; there is a plot.  I almost forgot.  Our narrator is Natalia, a modern woman in the Balkans, who leads us through many interweaving, overlapping stories surrounding her beloved grandfather.  Natalia’s grandfather is a storyteller himself, and we hear his story of “the tiger’s wife” in fable form, told through Natalia’s understanding, until some of the fable starts to seem like reality.  Meanwhile, Natalia travels as a doctor across newly-minted international borders to inoculate orphans—orphans created by “her people’s” soldiers.  Stories of the modern-day Balkans are layered on top of the old fable/histories, until Obrecht’s tale “reveals the continuity beneath the clangor” (as the NY Times put it) in Yugoslavia’s long history.

This book is cram-packed full of detail and history and wars and relationships and stories, and I would not recommend it if you enjoy sparse prose and clean lines.  Much of this book is blurry, messy, and sometimes even ponderous, but if you thumb through the first chapter and get hooked, I promise you’ll love the ride the whole way through.  8 out of 10.

The Tiger's Wife