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

Library Haul

Today I joined my local library and went a little bit crazy. I ended up carrying 17 books all the way home, only four fit in my bag so it turned out to be quite the work-out as some of the books are quite heavy. I went looking primarily for Graphic Novels, unfortunately I only left with three as the others I had read before or the first volume was missing.

I left with 13 fiction novels, one non-fiction and, of course, three graphic novels.

The three graphic novels I picked up are:

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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and illustrated by Fabio Celoni and Mirka Adolfo. I class Hosseini’s novel as one of my favourite books therefore I’m excited to see how well it’s adapted.

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I then picked up The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman which “memorialises Spiegelman’s father’s experience of the Holocaust- it follows his story frame by frame from youth to marriage in pre-war Poland to imprisonment in Auschwitz” (Independent) This graphic novel was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and I am so excited to read it. The illustrations are in black and white and it is very reminiscent of classic comic-strip style.

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The final graphic novel I checked out is Y: The Last Man which has a huge fan base. It was made by Brian K Vaughan, Pia Guerra and José Marzán, Jr. Inside it is much more colourful than its title page but I’m excited to form my own opinion on this series. I believe this one is about a plague.

Onto the novels I picked up…

I have a deep love and respect for any novel that can make people laugh and have heard that this novel is exceptionally funny…

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I don’t believe I’ve read a Muriel Spark novel before and as I would like to read more literature from my home land this year I am highly anticipating this one.

 

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Another extremely popular novel I picked up was Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey which is a thriller narrated by a character with a mental illness. The concept alone is intriguing and I have heard that it is a very quick and easy read, as one would expect a thriller to be.

 

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I have a follower on Instagram who enjoyed both Elizabeth is Missing and The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer which I also picked up so I assume if you like one you’ll like the other. This is also a thriller or psychological drama and is supposed to be best read in one sitting. Challenge accepted.

 

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Sebastian Faulks is a novelist I believe I read for the first time last year. I have read Birdsong and A Possible Life and thoroughly enjoyed both. To be honest I picked this one up purely because I want to read more of his work. The blurb does not give too much away but it will go through various time periods I think trying to tell a family history though I am unsure. I’m hoping I will enjoy it as much as Birdsong.

 

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Similarly, I have also read Lloyd Jones before and have always meant to pick up another of his novels. I read Mister Pip years ago and I enjoyed it so I was pleased to find Hand Me Down World hidden in the shelves. Again, the blurb is crazy and leads me baffled so I guess I’m going into this one blind.

 

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In contrast, I have also read a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and, as you may know from my Unpopular Opinions Book Tag post, I found it bland and predictable. However I never rule out an author until I have read at least two of their novels. Picking up this book from the library allows me to give Ishiguro’s writing another chance and means that even if I don’t enjoy it at least I didn’t pay for it. Are you a fan of Ishiguro? and if so what is your favourite novel? Is there anyone who loves him but didn’t enjoy Never Let Me Go?

 

My next selection is also Japanese Literature and is Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami. She is one of Japan’s most popular and contemporary novelists and I have wanted to read this book for such a long time! so excited I finally have a copy! This novel is about Tsukiko who finds herself sitting next to her former high school teacher. Over the coming months they share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass they come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly towards love. I want to read a novel of each genre this year and this sounds like the perfect choice for romance.

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The next novel I picked up was winner of The Orange Prize for Fiction 2011. Its author Téa Obreht was born in the former Yugoslavia and was raised in Belgrade. The novel is of course The Tiger’s Wife.  I will insert the blurb as I think it’s enchanting. I have high hopes for this one.

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My grandfather never refers to the tiger’s wife by name. His arm is around me and my feet are on the handrail, and my grandfather might say ‘I once knew a girl who loved tigers so much she became one herself.’ Because I am little, and my love for tigers comes directly from him, I believe he is talking about me, offering me a fairy tale in which I can imagine myself- and will, for years and years.

 

Now for the only non-fiction novel I picked up. In all honesty it is my least anticipated read because I do not know anything about the author, Caitlin Moran. Also the two quotes on the book cover are from Nigella Lawson and Jonathan Ross and I unfortunately trust neither. However it is highly recommended on social media and is supposed to be very witty.

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Back to the fiction…

I also carried home Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw. I have only just now remembered how I know the author’s name….I have been challenged to read another of his novels this year! (see Annual Reading Challenge) This novel was long listed for the Man Booker in 2013 and is set in Shanghai and centres on five newcomers who hope to make their fortunes and find their way in the big city.

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Now for a 613 page novel which did not make it easy for me to carry all of these books home…

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This book is also very well known and I believe largely well liked. I would also prefer to go into this one blind.What intrigued me about The Bone Clocks was that I have heard from people who have read it that it is difficult to place into a single genre, and while that might be said of all novels I remain interested.

 

Up next is the 2014 winner of the Man Booker Prize and I now realise this blog post is also an unintentional pop quiz. It is of course Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North which I have actually been told not to read because it is so bad. However in a really odd way it is this strong opinion of Flanagan’s novel that makes me want to read it. So if I don’t enjoy this novel then really I can only blame myself…

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And finally the last two novels I picked up are The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead which I am sure you have seen all over bookstagram and booktube lately. And The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon which I believe is a fantasy/sci-fi series written of course by a female author.

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Obviously I don’t know how many of these books I will get to but at the moment my intention is to read all of them…

Wish me luck!
Sophie