Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

Much has been written about this book, a debut by a 25 year old that's considered one of the best books of this past year. And I found it lovely, in the elegant way she combines myth with the main story of the young woman doctor. I read that she's got a Vampire story she wrote for a magazine, that's based on the myths of Eastern Europe that I would also like to read. I very much like the deaf-mute girl, a Mohammedian who's married to her sister's unfortunate ex-suitor. He's a batterer but Obreht also makes you see the tragedy of his life, a would be musician/singer who loses his chance when his father, a butcher, calls him back to his despised native village. So the butcher doesn't escape and becomes a monster of frustrated hopes. That same theme is echoed by the Tiger's Hunter,born to a once wealthy family. His engineer father leaves him in charge of his epileptic sister and the young boy seeks to triumph over death--which follows his sister--and he develops a love of taxidermy. When that business flounders in the war, he becomes a hunter of skins for his craft, which becomes his embrace of life as the hunt. And in Obreht's hands, he is a kind of man-bear. Just as the Tiger's Wife becomes a kind of cat-woman, the otherworldly deaf-mute Mohammeden becomes the symbol of the scary predatory anger of a primal creature in the village's imagination. So on one level this book is about the War in the Balkans, on another, it's about the primal fears of the "other," that led to the war. And on a third leve, it's about the power of folktales to target humanity's way of making sense of what is not comprehendable, the randomness and inevitablity of life and death. So I believe this is a profound book. My only criticism is that the stories, the myths and the over story of the doctor, a grandaughter trying to find out about her doctor grandfather's death, can become confusing. There are a good many subplots and back and forth and I had to struggle to figure out the myths. They were beautiful enough I tried. But was left with a lot of my own wondering if I really got it. I look forward to her next.