In The Tiger's Wife, Tea Obreht brings to life the cold harsh reality of the Yogoslav Wars in the 1990's, and the impact it had on the lives of the people of those regions. Her narrator, Natalia Stefanovic, starts out on a journey to discover what happened to her grandfather in the last few days before his death.
Woven around this main story are the stories of many others; the story of Luka who travels far to learn the Gusla, a traditional instrument of the region, and Gavran Gaile, the deathless man and, of course, the tiger's wife herself.
Underlying everything that happens in this book is the common idea that death is something we all have to come to terms with throughout our lives and that this journey is not always easy and not always what we expect – but it is a necessary one and one that can't be undertaken lightly.
Given this was a debut novel from a 25 year old author, I was surprised at how elegant the writing in The Tigers Wife was. It was skilled and creative and just… delicious. The way the fables weaved in and around the main story was done so well made me feel as though I was something truly unique.
Having said all that, although intellectually I was able to recognise a well written and well constructed book, my emotions weren't at all touched by the book. I wanted to be interested in the story of the tiger's wife and of course the story of Natalia's grandfather, but sadly I wasn't. I loved the writing, but in the end the beauty of the writing wasn't enough for me. I can't help but wonder if Obreht fell into the trap of spending so much time perfecting the craft of writing, she forgot to add that elusive element that really plays on the reader's emotions, helps them to identify with the characters and keep them interested in the story.
The Tiger's Wife is only Obreht first's piece of published fiction and so no doubt her future works will build upon what she has created here. I hope that there will be more of a balance between the beautiful writing and the emotional pull that a novel needs to have in order to keep it's reader's attention.
Read a recent review of this book in the Sydney Morning Herald here.