Book Report: The Tiger’s Wife

Michelle G.                             Edited by: Sami R.

The Tiger’s Wife

Tėa Obreht

2011 

Magical Realism

Natalia turns to old stories and possessions of her beloved grandfather to uncover the puzzling circumstances surrounding his death.

The deep, unraveling connection between Natalia and her grandfather and their memories indulge the readers’ craving for mystery and drama.  Tėa Obreht’s inclusion of the legend of the tiger’s wife and the deathless man successfully develops the complex characters and plot to provoke necessary sympathy and emotion.  Having portions written from an animal perspective adds another dimension to the story and emphasizes the hardships endured by Yugoslavians during the Yugoslavian Civil War.  

The Tiger’s Wife explores the moral line separating good and evil.  Oberht uses a rendition of an old classic, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, to challenge the reader’s perception of threat and evil by writing a portion of the story from the antagonist and sympathizers view.  As humans we usually believe what we want to hear and ignore what challenges that.  The Tiger’s Wife creates undeniable moral opposition, and opens a door for self-revelation through the eyes of another. Kipling’s expression of good and evil through the animals was powerful and showed that world is black and white when it comes to morals. Oberht explores the grey area throughout, but overall Kipling explores the theme more powerfully and redundantly.

The vague concept of death is reiterated constantly.  Memories cease at death.  Past the perceived end is unknown territory that religions and people have attempted to explain since the beginning of time.  A version of a reaper, a connection between the living and the dead, is no new concept.  The story twists the concept of a reaper into a human, the deathless man, and retells him repeatedly to constantly remind characters of death.  Once we can accept death we can live.  Oberht licenses original thought about death through older ideas.

While unearthing Yugoslavian history soon to be forgotten, Oberht defines the struggles and ignorance of wartime citizens.  Children in wartime barely grasp the looming or constant danger, but instead use it as an excuse to rebel against authority.  The parents, guilt-ridden from the danger their generation imposes on their kin, allow the children’s rebellions.  The adults worry about the outcome of the unrestrained teens and the future leadership of their country in their children’s hands.  War morphs society and behavior.  During war, two psychological groups emerge, those who wait for the next attack and those who wait for peace.  One’s psyche defines one’s life, and how we emotionally deal with the aftermath and devastation.

Throughout, different animal perspectives emphasize human neglect of once precious items and traditions in wartime.  Bombs and violence replace long-lasting rich customs.  Fear and pain becomes a cancer that clouds and overtakes our minds.  War creates new priorities, and it is hard to realize the significance of old ones.  Humans barely notice the occupation as it incapacitates them, but beloved animals see it like a spectator watching a focused Rembrandt paint his portrait.

No detail in any aspect of the story is forgotten in the beginning chapters.  The writing is a Rembrandt painting, detailed, beautiful and intriguing, but leaving little room for wild interpretation.  On the other hand, a writing style like Monet’s water lilies leaves vast interpretation of the beautiful strokes of color.  The extensive details provide unnecessary clarity, and a detailed background steals the eye away from the main messages.  When a spectator studies a painting it is usually finished with every brush stroke perfectly executed.  The Tiger’s Wife is still showing canvas beneath the paint.   As the books ends, loose ends pile up leaving the reader with a ball of tangled string, and unable to distinguish separate stories.  The author is overly exuberant with description in the beginning, and slowly loses clarity.

Essentially, the book is about struggles in a changing, unsafe world and self-revelation when beliefs are challenged.  Every character at some point combats their perceived knowledge to find truth and survive imposing threats.  Either in the aftermath or danger of a threat, every human, appearing to choose different pathways, falls back onto basic human instinct.  All characters retreat onto basic human behavior, driven by fear and pain, that intertwines them into one legend, one story, The Tiger’s Wife.

The Tiger’s Wife will be forgotten by its limited amount of readers.  Nothing separates it from the large, impending river of literature and media surrounding the 21st century.  The Tiger’s Wife will be consumed by popular sitcoms and many other emotion riveting books stacked next to it in the book store.  The complicated story touches its readers by the freshness and eagerness of the writing, but The Tiger’s Wife will soon be overlooked.

Word Count: 772

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