The Tiger’s Wife

The Tiger's WifeThe Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the writing and the stories. The animals and people she writes about all come to life – the elephant, the tiger, the dancing bear. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with The Life of Pi, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and, of course, The Jungle Book, which her grandfather treasured. We learn something of his life through the folk tales he relates to his granddaughter. She, herself, because of her ethnicity, is not entirely welcome in her own country. The tales that are related here are all about outcasts – the “tiger’s wife”: a deaf-mute girl who forms a bond with a tiger escaped from a zoo, Gavran Gaile the “deathless man”, Dariša a violent and closeted homosexual who turns to taxidermi. All of them are just trying to survive. It is sometimes a rather dark story. With its multiple themes, interwoven stories, and magical realism there is much to ponder here.

Description: 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.

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The Crane Wife

The Crane WifeThe Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting blend of contemporary story about a man having a mid-life crisis, his socially inept single mother daughter, and the fairy-tale, mystical woman who comes into their lives offering love? forgiveness? redemption? It is also a philosophical look at storytelling and the nature of truth vs. myth. Lots of gorgeous prose and quotable lines. A strong beginning, but then a tendency to lose itself in the shifting points of view and time. The mystical and the real didn’t always intersect very smoothly, and the ending is hopeful but not necessarily convincing.

First line: “What actually woke him was the unearthly sound itself — a mournful shatter of frozen midnight falling to earth to pierce his heart and lodge there forever, never to move, never to melt — but he, being who he was, assumed it was his bladder.”

Book Description: George Duncan is an American living and working in London. At forty-eight, he owns a small print shop, is divorced, and lonelier than he realizes. All of the women with whom he has relationships eventually leave him for being too nice. But one night he is woken by an astonishing sound—a terrific keening, which is coming from somewhere in his garden. When he investigates he finds a great white crane, a bird taller than even himself. It has been shot through the wing with an arrow. Moved more than he can say, George struggles to take out the arrow from the bird’s wing, saving its life before it flies away into the night sky.

The next morning, a shaken George tries to go about his daily life, retreating to the back of his store and making cuttings from discarded books—a harmless, personal hobby—when through the front door of the shop a woman walks in. Her name is Kumiko, and she asks George to help her with her own artwork. George is dumbstruck by her beauty and her enigmatic nature, and begins to fall desperately in love with her. She seems to hold the potential to change his entire life, if he could only get her to reveal the secret of who she is and why she has brought her artwork to him.