Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Tiger's Wife, Téa Obreht (3.5)

"Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories, the story of the tiger’s wife, and the story of the deathless man. These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life — of my grandfather’s days in the army; his great love for my grandmother; the years he spent as a surgeon and a tyrant of the University."  -The Tiger's Wife

I’ve been having a really hard time writing this review for some reason. I really liked it, and I feel like it’s similar to a lot of books I’ve liked, but I can’t really put my finger on why. What do I have to say besides “I like when a book is in the present, but weaves together stories of the past along with some mystic tale that may or may not be true.”
The story follows Natalia, a young doctor travelling with her friend Zόra to give immunizations to orphans. Just after she arrives, she is struck with the news that her beloved grandfather has passed away. The story weaves Natalia’s memories of her grandfather, stories he has told her, and her current journey.
The novel is both slow and gentle and teaming with love, loss, and adventures with a tiger. Moments like this were beautiful:
After following him through dark, empty streets, suddenly she sees what he sees: an elephant, a refugee from a defunct circus, being walked to the city’s embattled zoo. “None of my friends will ever believe it,” she exclaims in regret. “You must be joking,” her grandfather replies, rebuking her: “The story of this war — dates, names, who started it, why — that belongs to everyone. Not just the people involved in it, but the people who write newspapers, politicians thousands of miles away, people who’ve never even been here or heard of it before. But something like this — this is yours. It belongs only to you. And me. . . . You have to think carefully about where you tell it, and to whom. Who deserves to hear it?”
 I was surprised to see so much wisdom in a novel written by a 27-year-old. If she could write something of this magnitude, perhaps I should go back to one of my abandoned novels. Perhaps I could do something this great. Critics love this book. 
However, there is so much happening that I’m not entirely sure I came away with a great sense of what the novel accomplished…or what even happened. Characters die as they do in real life, leaving a gaping hole and without delivering purpose to the plot. Death does not tie a pretty bow around the ending of the novel, and yet death is present throughout the book.
I think what has bothered me about this book, and what has kept me from reviewing it, was that I didn’t feel that the story was finished. I enjoyed reading it, and desperately wanted to give it a five star review (I want to give everything a five star review, but have to remind myself that 3 can mean that I liked it, and I should save 5 for the Harry Potter's of the literary world) but I also realized that I had so many unanswered questions, which made me feel stupid. Had I really read the book so quickly that I had no idea how everything came together? Did I miss something? I felt stupid. How could I give you a review about a book I didn’t feel that I understood? And worse yet, how could I tell you that I loved said book, when I could barely tell you what happened?
So here is my review: read it. It’s a good read. Then tell me what you think. Let me know if you understood the great point of this novel. My copy went back into the internet-library before I could re-read or review it. Perhaps next year I will revisit it and try to figure out what happened myself. Leave me a note if you have any idea what happened.

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**giant, major spoilers ahead – here’s a picture to keep you from peeking**
Tiger's don't like peeking.

I feel like I would have liked the book better if in the end Natalia had encountered the deathless man, Gavran Gailé, instead of leaving the myth out of the present. One the one hand, I like that the myth remained a myth, but on the other I wish 

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