The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
Rating: PG-13; 4 stars
Summary: Natalia is a doctor in a Balkan country decimated by years of civil war. While journeying across the border to bring vaccinations to orphans, Natalia finds out that her grandfather has died. While working with these children, Natalia cannot help but recollect on her grandfather and the stories he told, namely those of the tiger's wife and the deathless man. These thoughts lead her to investigate the roots of these stories and then lead her to a surprising conclusion.
Opinions: I don't generally read literary fiction, like this book. I want to, but something keeps bringing me back to genre fiction (specifically fantasy). So when I got this book from the library, I made a point of reading it. Being a poet at heart, I really appreciate beautiful writing. This book was beautifully written. Obreht does an excellent job at crafting a setting that feels both familiar and foreign at the same time. However, being a reader mostly of genre fiction, I need a compelling plot too, and for the most part, The Tiger's Wife provided that.
I think perhaps my favorite thing about this book was its meandering nature. Obreht took her time to get to each plot point, and it really worked well in this book. Storytelling and folklore are essential to the plot, so the fact that Obreht was able to weave that style into the narrative is exceptional. I'd say that the book jumps around from the tiger's wife to the deathless man, to the war, to the present day, but that isn't really the case. The book shifts quite a lot, but it doesn't have that jumping feel; it truly is meandering.
The setting of this book is another remarkable thing to notice. Obreht truly places the reader in the setting. While reading, I felt the effects of the war that Natalia had lived through. The names and bits of foreign language that were slipped in felt mostly natural; there were only a few times that I wished I had an exact meaning. For the most part, Obreht did an excellent job at making meaning clear through context.
So then, if this book was so technically great, why only 4 stars? Maybe it's because I don't read a lot of literary fiction, but there were parts where I pretty much had to force myself to continue. They were few and far between, but the fact that they were they, that parts made reading feel like a chore, was a sizable detriment to me. From a technical aspect, I'd say this book is darn near flawless. Since I finished it, obviously it interested me too; I'd say it interested me quite a bit. But I couldn't help but knock it down a star for the periods of boredom and disinterest. I gave it a PG-13 for violence. I don't recall any obscene language or explicit sexual content, but that doesn't mean it isn't there. The nature of the plot almost made me rate the book an R, but it's really somewhere between PG-13 and R.
This book isn't light reading. If you relax too much while reading it, you're likely to miss something. That being said, it is an excellent book. I wouldn't say enjoyable; that's not really the right way to convey it. However, it's safe to say that it is something. If you want a mentally stimulating book, I wholeheartedly recommend this. It isn't much of a summer read, where books are typically as light and fluffy as cotton candy, but that doesn't mean that it isn't good.