Review: The Tiger’s Wife (Part Two)

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.

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“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.

 

Sophie

 

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Review: The Tiger’s Wife (Part One)

This review will not give away any spoilers about the tiger or its significance in the story but will discuss other events and elements of Obreht’s Prize-Winning debut novel.

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Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs…

A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic – Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book.

Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery.

From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realizes he may have died searching for ‘the deathless man’, a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

 

I knew I wanted to review this novel when I picked it up from the library as I had a hunch that this novel would turn out to be unlike any other I’ve read. Thus far I have only just discovered this blurb having previously only read the exert on the back of the book. The blurb just threw a curve-ball at me as I was not expecting Obreht’s novel to be a war story. I am now hoping that the tigers, that are of such importance in the novel are not purely metaphors for the Nazis.

However I found this book to be quirky, as I had previously imagined, from the first page and whimsical from the first line “In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers.” (1) On first impression her grandfather is instantly likeable, a doctor, dedicated to his granddaughter, who reads from his ever-present favourite book The Jungle Book. It is not long before the first reference to ‘The Tiger’s Wife’  it appears on the second page in fact “I believe he is talking about me, offering me a fairy tale in which I can imagine-myself and will, for years and years.”(2) It is then that I find myself thinking of C.S. Lewis and his heartbreaking, poignant The Chronicles of Narnia dedication to his granddaughter.

At the end of Chapter  it becomes clear that the relationship between Natalia and her grandfather is far more complex than it initially seems when he allows her to witness a traumatic event, aged four.

Natalia is full of ambition which was pleasing to read. In her childhood she wants nothing more than to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and become a Doctor and she achieves this goal. It is also interesting, in a similar way to Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde to read the fantastical elements of this novel when the two main characters, our narrator and her grandfather, both doctors, are rational and logical.

There is an incredibly vivid scene where Natalia and her grandfather come across an elephant in the dead of night and he explains to her that there are certain moments in life you should cherish and keep for yourself, this being one of them. This leads Natalia to ask her grandfather if he has any such stories he can share with her. His response provides a perfect example of the pairing between the rational and the fantastical in Obreht’s novel. Natalia’s grandfather tells her of a job he took in ’54; to diagnose the cause of death of a recently deceased man. When he arrives he then finds the man, who was recently shot in the head, alive in his coffin. The man is named Gavran Gailé who explains he ‘died’ after telling another man he was going to die from TB, the man grows angry upon hearing of his impending death and kills Gavran. Gailé ‘post-death’ eloquently describes people who are told they are going to die:

“They behave strangely..They are suddenly filled with life. Suddenly they want to fight for things, ask questions. They want to throw hot water in your face, or beat you senseless with an umbrella, or hit you in the head with a rock. Suddenly they remember things thy have to do, people they have forgotten. All that refusal, all that resistance. Such a luxury.” (69)

This novel came to me during a difficult part of my life, as Natalia remembered and grieved the loss of her grandfather, I was losing mine. Perhaps this was the reason I found myself enjoying the novel (although finding it hard to read) and being grateful for its fantastical elements. Again I find myself thinking of the great C.S Lewis; “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairytales again.” I have learned that fairytales can be a great comfort.

 

Sophie

Classics Book Tag

As 2017 is my ‘Year of Classics’ I decided it would be a fun experiment to do this tag at the beginning of the year and once more at the end to see how my answers change and to log my progress. I believe this tag was created by ‘Itsabooksworld’.

  1. An overhyped classic you didn’t really like: 31h1+FJLo2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgFor this category I have to go with Vonnegut’s cult classic Slaughterhouse Five. I had to read this novel/novella for University and unfortunately found it boring and forgettable. I understand however that I am the minority here. There are many overhyped classics I personally dislike for example Pride&Prejudice, Lolita and The Man in the High Castle. If you also didn’t enjoy these famous novels, have you enjoyed other works by the same authors? If so please leave a comment. 

 

2. Favourite time period to read about:  I personally enjoy novels set in the Victorian and Romantic eras. I also like the 1920s and The Lost Generation writers.

 

3. Favourite Fairytale: I hope to read many fairytales this year especially Rumplestiltskin. Until now my favourite fairytale is the wonderfully quirky and unique The Light Princess by George MacDonald.

 

4. What Classic are you embarrassed about not having read: While I wouldn’t say embarrassed I am disappointed that I haven’t read For Whom the Bell Tolls and Middlemarch

 

5. Top 5 Classics you would like to read soon:          

I would like to read Moby Dick by Herman Melville as I’ve been meaning to pick this up for a long time. The problem is that I find its size intimidating. Walden by Henry David Thoreau is also at the top of my list. I’ve wanted to read this novel since watching Dead Poets Society, a movie that I absolutely adore. I am also interested in reading Thomas Hardy which I have not yet done and was intrigued by the movie trailer of Far From the Madding Crowd. I have read the first few pages of The Hobbit and liked the writing style. I am also, along with the rest of the world, a huge fan of the LOTR movies and hope to read that trilogy also. I am a huge fan of F Scott Fitzgerald and have read his other works, The Last Tycoon is his last and unfinished novel which I have been putting off for obvious reasons. I hope to get around to reading it this year.

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6.Favourite modern book/series based on a classic: Unfortunately I have not read many adaptations of classics although I am really excited to read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Hours by Michael Cunningham alongside each other this year. I have read that His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman is an adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost although I have only read exerts of Milton’s classic, from what I’ve read so far I can say I love both novels. I have read two fairytale retellings that I enjoyed  which are Cinder by Marissa Meyer and The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy.  

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7.Favourite movie/tv series based on a classic: For this category I have chosen the 1975 adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey starring Jack Nicholson which I like more than the Kesey’s novel. I also adore the Henry Fonda adapation of 12 Angry Men. MV5BODQwOTc5MDM2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODQxNTEzNA@@._V1_UY1200_CR85,0,630,1200_AL_.jpgOne_Flew_Over_the_Cuckoo's_Nest_poster.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Worst Classic book to screen adaptation: Every adaptation of Frankenstein ever made.

 

9. Favourite editions you’d like to collect more of: Penguin Drop Caps, Roads Classics, The Virago Modern Classics, Vintage Classics, Picador 40th Anniversary Classics, Puffin Classics, Penguin Clothbound Classics and the list goes on…

 

10. An underhyped Classic you’d recommend to everyone: The Lifted Veil by George Elliot, The Graduate by Charles Webb, White Noise by Don Delillo and This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Sophie