Friday, August 24, 2012

ReView of Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife is Phenomenal (But Still Leaves You a Little Dry?)

ReView of The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Historical Fiction ; (338pgs)
Random House Publishing

I saw this book everywhere about the same time I got news it was written by a very young writer and that it was a 2011 National Book Award Nominee, plus the winner for the 2011 Orange Prize Award.  And on top of everything the title was highly appealing to me.  One of the most important books of my childhood which influenced my passion for books was The Jungle Book.  So you can imagine that if you put all these three together you can also hear the voice that I heard at the back of my mind telling me: "Buy it, buy it, buy it. Read it, read it, read it.  Must know about it, must, must must."  So a couple of weeks ago I did just that.

This book really made an impression on me.  I think it was a little bit of everything.  The organic tone of the book.  The freestyle of the writing.  The immersive feel of the storytelling.  The touching and depthful concepts of life, death, and family.  And definitely the mysticism in believing in higher powers, the soul, and the other spiritual realms.  The part which made the biggest impression on me was the idea of what people leave behind for us to sift through which ultimately helps us makes sense of the world without them, the memories and the materials with sentimental values such as watches, glasses, books.

What's really great about this book is that it grabs your attention right off the bat.  Within twenty pages you will be committed. The worst part of reading a book is knowing you have to read one hundred pages to feel invested in it.  This isn't one of those.  There is a poetic nature to the writing that contributes to  much of this attachement or alluring effect of the book.  Take for example this paragraph early on in the book.
"Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories: the story of the tiger's wife, and the story of the deathless man.  These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life - of my grandfather's days in the army; his great love for my grandmother; the years he spent as a surgeon and a tyrant of the University.  One, which I learned after his death, is the story of how my grandfather became a man; the other, which he told to me, is of how he became a child again."

There is a fantastic conversation between Jennifer Egan and Tea Obreht at the back of the book.  In it, Jennifer brings up some really strong points of the book.  The first being the style of the writing.  This is something I also experience, but she says to Tea Obreht, "One of the many things that struck me about The Tiger's Wife was the restraint of the book, the willingness to leave things unsaid, which I don't remember having as a twenty-something writer.  I think at that point my big problem was that I worried I wouldn't be understood, that no one would know what I was talking about, so I had a tendency to really hammer my points and my themes home.  I'm curious about the restraint, and the confidence it suggests." Tea Obreht says something really profound.  Our society expects us to be precise, concise, and straight to the point, most of the time.  What makes this piece of literature so organic is the imperfection and freedom of not falling quite in line with that.  Rather, the book is mysterious, and even in the book the topic of mystery comes up quite often.  It leaves many things unresolved in the minds of the reader for them to answer or make sense for themselves.  Tea Obreh answers, "I don't like things necessarily over-explained to me or 100 percent concrete.  I like the idea of being free to answer the question myself."  Life is juggle for the 100 percent concrete and over-explained answer, for the unanswerable questions, and for the mysterious freedom to answer questions on your own.

A few more other things are included in that discussion between Jennifer Egan and Tea Obreht. I would be much more long winded if I were to bring them up in detail.  Instead, I'll mention them briefly.  Jennifer Egan talks to Tea Obreht about 'false starts,' and asks her to give an example of a false start to the book and how she was able to find the right doorway to the book that often a writer needs.  The animals in the book are very significant to the pulse of the story, and Tea Obreht talks a little bit about how "there is something jarring about seeing an animal out of place: there's a universal feeling of awe when you see an animal, particularly an impressive animal, out of place."  The obvious grandparent-grandchild relationship is also discussed.  Tea Obreh mentions that "when you're growing up, the lives of your parents aren't that fascinating, but there is this fascination with grandparents." The duality between the "the present-day political, medical, and scientific situation in which Natalia operates, and then there is this more mystical, folkloric world of the grandfather's past," is also discussed.  Lastly, Tea Obreht talks a bit about what next in store for her and what she wants to delve into next, plus what kind of writing routine she usually practices.

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