Recap: Myth, fantasy, and reality collide in this fictional story about a girl dealing with the loss of her grandfather as she travels through the Balkan countries. Natalia — a doctor — is there to help sick, war-stricken children. But as she interacts with the children, priests, farmers, and fellow doctors, she remembers the stories her grandfather used to tell her, particularly the one about the tiger’s wife.
Her grandfather had a special love for jungle animals — especially the tiger — because of his obsession with Jungle Book. He used to tell Natalia about the first tiger he ever saw, as a child in his small village. He told her the tiger had a wife — a deaf, mute woman who was accused of killing her very human husband, Luka. Along with this story, Natalia also remembers her grandfather’s tale about the deathless man.
All the while, war rages on in the Balkans. Natalia tries to help as many children as she can, while also attempting to make sense of what’s real in these fables and what’s not.
Analysis: In doing some research of The Tiger’s Wife, it’s clear that the book is praised and well-liked for Tea Obreht’s interwoven mythical stories, details about the Balkan wars, and her own personal journey. But I disliked the book for the same reasons it gets praise.
I found the various stories and tales to be confusing and jarring. In detailing Natalia’s personal journey, Obreht would suddenly go back to a tale about the tiger’s wife or the deathless man. It took time for me to realize that Obreht had changed focuses to another subplot. Each chapter seemed to be a short story in and of itself, giving the overall book a disjointed feel. It made it difficult for me to keep track of characters’ names and their connections to Natalia and her grandfather. I found myself regularly flipping back through pages and chapters to refresh my memory on certain stories and characters.
And what’s worse; to some degree, I finished the book almost feeling as though nothing had happened. The end was ambiguous, and the story never seemed to reach a climactic moment. I kept waiting for it, but it didn’t come. The biggest plot twist came during the tale of the tiger’s wife, but in my mind, that story was mostly a myth, not something to be taken seriously.
And on top of it all, Obreht’s writing was difficult to follow. Typically, a writer’s actual writing doesn’t bother me; it’s the content I like to critique. But in this case, I couldn’t be more perturbed by the author’s lengthy, complex sentences.
MVP: The deathless man. Of all the plots and subplots in this book, the story of the deathless man was my favorite. His mystery intrigued, and I also enjoyed the relationship he developed with Natalia’s grandfather through their various meetings over the years. This mystical man was the highlight of the novel for me; he was the only part that left me wanting more.
**Note: After doing more research, I’ve also learned that this novel is praised for its use of magical realism. But in my opinion, only a great writer can truly pull off that genre, and Obreht did not with The Tiger’s Wife.