Inevitably, it got pretty hard to want to pick this book up about halfway through. To see why please read Part One. It’s strange how certain books come to you at the most appropriate time of your life. Are most of our favourite novels all about timing? More than anything else this novel is a narrative of grief.
“I had been longing for my grandfather all day without letting myself think about it….They had lost children themselves, my grandparents: a son and a daughter, both stillborn, within a year of each other. It was another thing they never talked about, a fact I knew somehow without knowing how I’d ever heard about it, something buried so long ago, in such absolute silence, that I could go for years without remembering it. When I did I was always stunned by the fact that they had survived it, this thing that sat between them.” (129-130)
This is the perfect example of how confusing grief can be, to have the world still go on around you and how you can feel as though you are not allowed to let yourself think about it. It is also an example of how grief separates us, as the knowledge of her grandparents loss distances Natalia from them. This is because grief is not spoken about. This can be seen several times throughout the novel for example when Natalia goes to collect her late grandfather’s belongings the nurse she encounters is indifferent to his death saying “nothing about my grandfather being a nice man, nothing about how it was a shame he had died.” (143) Obreht manages to express these feelings naturally without under or overplaying the role of grief in the life of her protagonist. While grieving we can see her continue with her profession, we see her continue with social interaction. While she grieves we see that the magic still exists…
“There was something familiar about the room and the village, a crowded feeling of sadness that crawled into my gut, but not for the first time, like a note of music I could recognise but not name. I don’t know how long I stood there before I thought of the deathless man.”
I found that the magical realism in this novel was done really well. In fact I believe this novel is far more entertaining than One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, a staple of magical realism. The story takes place in various time periods, or rather the novel is a masterful combination of stories from different time periods of her and her grandfather’s life. In fact the story sometimes goes back further than her grandfather’s birth and gives the reader back-stories of lesser characters.
If someone asked me to describe the characters in this novel then I have no doubt that I would sound like a crazy person, and yet the characters were not so outlandish that it seemed ridiculous when reading. This may be due to the fact Natalia acts as a storyteller and is somewhat detached from certain stories, telling us through various word of mouth encounters. However it is Natalia’s story that is real and relatable and perhaps that is why we, as readers, are willing to come along on this journey of discovery with her.
Overall I enjoyed Obreht’s writing, I especially loved her character descriptions and I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Tiger’s Wife. Obreht did not rush the ending which I was wary about, particularly as this is a début novel, the story came to a natural end and managed to maintain some of its mystery. While it is unlike anything I’ve read so far this year, (this is book #27) if I had to name a book I found similar to Obreht’s novel it would be The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey which I happen to also have a review for. I draw this comparison due to the fact that they are both, original, modern fairytales. Although, Obreht’s fairytale is loosely based on the historical bombing of Belgrade Zoo during the Second World War where a tiger was believed to have gone missing and was never found. That being said the role of the tiger in the novel was not as clichéd as you might expect and Obreht’s novel is more than a war-novel. Some of the characters of this novel will be on my mind for a long time.