Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

The Tiger's WifeA review by Steve Cameron

The Tiger’s Wife tells the story of Natalia, a doctor in the Balkans. With her friend and colleague, she is visiting orphanages in the war ravaged region. During her travels she hears of the mysterious death of her grandfather, a man she loved dearly. Curious as to why he was so far from home when he died, she looks for clues in tales that he told her when she was young.

During World War 2 a tiger escapes from the zoo and makes his home in the mountain above a small village where Natalia’s grandfather is a young boy. His most prized possession is Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and he sees Shere Khan in the visiting tiger. Most of the town, however, see evil at work – particularly as rumour and gossip give the beast increasingly mystical powers. Along with the tales Natalia recalls of the so-called ‘deathless’ man, she realises that these might hold the key to her grandfather’s mysterious death.

I suspect the one thing you will continually read in reviews of this novel is how young the author is. Obreht is young, born in 1985, and yet writes with an insight and maturity of one well beyond those years. I was blown away by not only the writing, but the tale itself. Three separate narratives that weave perfectly, leaving the reader panting for more. The writing is crisp and precise, descriptive yet understated. If the locations and characters’ names were less European sounding, The Tiger’s Wife could easily be mistaken as a magic realist text, produced by one of the South American masters of the genre. Obreht currently appears as the youngest writer on The New Yorker’s Top 20 Writers under 40, and I don’t believe it will take very long for her to assert herself as an author to watch with anticipation.

Previously published in Dark Matter issue 4, July 2011, blog post predated to reflect the original publication date.