The Tiger’s Wife – A Book Review


Natalia Stefavoni is a doctor working in the Balkans, getting ready to set out for a dangerous humanitarian mission to an orphanage when she receives devastating news: her beloved grandfather has died.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

She begins to remember her grandfather, the stories and myths he shared with her – specifically, those of the tiger’s wife and the deathless man.

When she realizes that the place he died isn’t far from the village she is visiting, Natalia decides to travel in search of answers to her grandfather’s death, as well as his life.

I usually review books within 2-3 days after finishing the book. That’s when my memory is most fresh and I can do justice to the book. With this one, it’s almost two weeks, so I will be probably be a bit vague, so please have patience with me on this one 🙁 .

This book is one of a series of war-themed books that I have read this year. Unlike other books which were sad, this is a very uplifting book. The book covers two wars – World War II and the Yugoslavian conflict in the late 90s. In reality, this should be a very depressing book, but since the focus is so much on Natalia’s grandfather’s supernatural tales/experiences, it’s really quite magical and hopeful.

Also, at its heart, it is a story about the love between a grandfather and grand-daughter, and who cannot go aww over that? My heart melted when after her grandfather’s death (a peaceful death in old age, mind you, nothing grim), Natalia reminiscences about her childhood outings with him to the zoo where they would feed animals and go look at the tiger.

As part of her reminiscences, we come to know of the stories of the tiger’s wife and the deathless man – two very magical and lovely stories, which then proceed to form the heart of the book.

The last part of the book moves back into the present as Natalia tries to gather her grandfather’s belongings, and try to find out what her granddad was up to in the last few months before his death.

I have to say that for a debut work, this book is all sorts of awesome. It isn’t easy pulling together three different time frames and three different plot points into a coherent book, and Obreht has done a very skillful job of it. The writing is lovely but also very accessible, making this book literary but at the same time accessible to everyone.

The one aspect that didn’t sit very well with me was Obreht’s need to describe everything in excruciating detail. It slowed the book down considerably, especially in the beginning. I don’t know about you, but when something is described in detail, I pay attention assuming that place/person/thing is important in some way, so it annoys me tons when I see redundant descriptions slowing the story down.

Apart from that one issue, I loved this book, and highly recommend it. If you love fables, and/or want a little magic in your world, this is the book for you.

Couple of Side Notes

  • I borrowed this book from the library without paying much attention to the blurb on the cover that said it’s a 2011 Orange prize-winner. I don’t really follow a lot of literary news, and all I know about the Orange prize is that it’s a prize for women authors, and apparently quite prestigious. So, definitely Obreht really scored with her very first book and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

    Do you follow the Orange book awards? What books would you recommend out of their book lists?

  • I love that this book is written so much from the heart. Obreht has written and dedicated this book to her grandfather and it really feels that their relationship formed the basis for much of this book.
  • I completely agree with you about the excruciating detail. I read it a little over a year ago and generally liked it — largely because of the fables — but felt like the rest of the story was at times almost painful in its detail.

    • @Keri: Good to know that I am not the only one who feels this way :). I read this book just after reading The English Patient (another slow boil), and I didn’t know whether it was my mindset coming into this book that I really wanted something fast moving, and plot-based and instead got something else altogether. I must say though about 80 pages, she really hooked me in with her stories.

      • It’s funny, but when I read Tiger’s Wife, I read English Patient at about the same time.

        • @Keri: Co-incidence that 🙂 how did you like The English Patient?

          • So-so. I don’t remember it as clearly now, but I remember thinking I liked speculating on the possible symbolism of the house itself and the descriptions of it. I also remember liking the author’s use of language. But … I wasn’t all that jazzed about it overall; I think it was kind of slow-moving. I later watched the movie and wondered if I went back and read the book afterward if I would like it better, but I haven’t done so.

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