When her grandfather dies far from home under mysterious circumstances, Natalia sets off on two life-changing journeys: one across her homeland, the former Yugoslavia, and another into her family’s history, revisiting stories that her grandfather used to tell her.
As long-hidden secrets come to light, Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife deftly walks the line between the realistic and the fantastical. Natalia’s grandfather was a brilliant doctor and practical man (his motto: “I prepare, I think, I explain”) who scoffed at superstition throughout most of his life.
Yet his recollections take on the magical sheen of folklore, as in the tale of the “deathless man,” a wayfarer who never ages, and another in which a deaf-mute woman grows so attached to a stray tiger that her neighbors believe she’s become its wife.
These strange and beautiful stories from the past eventually converge with Natalia’s present, revealing oddly comforting truths about death, belief in the impossible, and the art of letting go.
In Obreht’s expert hands, the novel’s mythology, while rooted in a foreign world, comes to be somehow familiar, like the dark fairy tales of our own youth, the kind that spooked us into reading them again and again. A 352-page piece of art worth spending your money on.