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The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht

Vista Book Group: The Tiger's Wife

The Vista Book Group met in October to discuss The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht, named one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty by The New Yorker and included in the National Book Foundation’s Five Under Thirty Five.

Natalia, a young physician in an unnamed Balkan country, in the aftermath of an unnamed war, discovers that her grandfather has died under questionable circumstances. The story moves back and forth through time, from the present, to her childhood memories of spending time with grandfather at the city zoo, to her grandfather’s upbringing in a small village, and the backstories of various characters that touched upon his life. This novel is rooted in folklore and is full of symbolism.

The Tiger’s Wife is Obreht’s debut novel and has been given starred reviews by many notable reviewers. Although many of us attending the book group meeting found it to be an entertaining read, we also found it to be a confusing read. This book definitely leaves you with more questions than answers. Many of us found ourselves having “Wait! What?!” and “Oooh!, That happened?” moments.

There is no doubt that this book makes for a lively discussion! The two stories that are central to the grandfather’s life, the tiger’s wife and the deathless man, can be described as both illuminating and opaque, making for an engaging, but mystifying read. They are illuminating because they explain much about how the grandfather approached life, but they are opaque because they leave the reader with still more questions. The language is quite descriptive and lyrical and the themes are many: war, storytelling, family and death. The reader must decide which themes resonate most and which stories are most impactful. The Tiger’s Wife is a great example of magical realism.

Each book group member was asked to rate the book on a scale of one to five. The average score was 2.7. Although we found The Tiger's Wife to be an ambitious novel, and an interesting read, we sometimes felt like we needed a flowchart and a cast of characters to help us keep the parallel narratives straight. If you are looking for something different to read, that would make for a dynamic book discussion, then you might want to give The Tiger’s Wife a try.

Some possible read-a-likes that we came up with include:

  • American Dervish: a Novel, by Ayad Aktar
  • Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie
  • A Partisan’s Daughter, by Louis De Bernières
  • Like Water For Chocolate, by Laura Esquival
  • Chicken with Plums, by Marjane Satrapi
  • The Three Arched Bridge, by Ismail Kadare
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway
  • The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra
  • The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
  • Please join us on Wednesday, November 20, from 6:00 to 7:30 when we will be discussing Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, by Jenny Lawson. We will meet in Film and Sound, located on the first level of the Richland Library Main. If you would like to pick up a copy of the book, please call 929-3400 or stop by the General Reference/Research Desk on the second level of Richland Library Main. We look forward to seeing you there!

    This post was written by Chantal Wilson and Elizabeth Hill, Vista Book Group co-facilitators.


    The Tiger's Wife: A Novel by Téa Obreht 
    Amazon Says: NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Wall Street Journal • O: The Oprah Magazine • The Eco more...
    Amazon Says: NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Wall Street Journal • O: The Oprah Magazine • The Economist • Vogue • Slate • Chicago Tribune • The Seattle Times • Dayton Daily News • Publishers Weekly • Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered   SELECTED ONE OF THE TOP 10 BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times • Entertainment Weekly • The Christian Science Monitor • The Kansas City Star • Library Journal Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation.In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.   Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weeklytrips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for. less...
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