The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht is a "book-club" book that caught my attention despite descriptions like "magical realism." Usually I tend to mentally associate magical realism somewhere with paranormal and drop those books down toward the bottom of my interested-in-reading list. But Obrecht’s book has earned a huge amount of praise for its writing and subject matter and was also a 2011 Orange prize winner. I wanted to read something different, so here it was.
At the book’s opening, Natalia is crossing the border of their fractured country on a medical mission to an orphanage when she receives word of her grandfather’s death. Her grandmother is frantic because he left home, saying he was going to meet Natalia. She had no idea he was even ill, then word came that he died at a faraway clinic. Natalia is left to sort out the mystery of his death as well as lingering questions about his life. She does this by interweaving stories of her ongoing mission with memories of her past with him and stories that he told her. Some of these stories were straightforward while others were the stuff of folklore or myths. The story of the Tiger’s Wife and the Deathless Man were the two recurring tales that, taken in the new context of her grandfather's death, began to explain much about the person her grandfather became, the way he lived his life and the way he chose to die.
It’s a beautifully written book. The emotions are understated and yet palpable. I read it primarily on a long car ride and on the plane, and it was a perfect book for that kind of leisurely immersion. I came away from it with the impression that Natalia’s grandfather might have had a difficult life, but it was a life well-lived. I was glad Natalia shared him with us.