Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s 20 best American fiction writers under 40, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation.
In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend, Zóra, begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.
But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.
Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.
The youngest author included in The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” fiction issue last year, 25-year-old Tea Obreht is no doubt one of the most talked about novelists in the business right now. And her highly anticipated debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife, has more than lived up to the deafening hype; it is an engrossing story that masterfully mixes realism and fantasy, exploring intricate themes of life, death, and wartime. Both Obreht and her main character are skilled storytellers, and to hear their beautifully woven narratives performed by Susan Duerden and Robin Sachs only makes it that much easier to escape into The Tiger’s Wife.
Set in an unnamed, mysterious Balkan country, The Tiger’s Wife tells the story of a special bond between Natalia Stefanovic and her recently deceased grandfather. Natalia is a physician charged with inoculating orphaned children vulnerable to disease in the war-torn countryside. She grew up very close to her grandfather, also a physician, and his sudden death in a village he had no known ties to sends her on a pilgrimage to understand the circumstances of his passing. Along the way, she remembers and discovers details of her grandfather’s past, including two stories he told her when she was a child one of the deathless man, and another of an escaped tiger cared for by a deaf-mute girl. Obreht weaves Natalia’s story with the two fables seamlessly. It is a delicate balance of realism/science vs. myth/superstition Duerden and Sachs guide the listener through the intricate structure with their affecting narration.
The Tiger’s Wife features a cast of dynamic, unforgettable characters, some with even supernatural qualities. Duerden and Sachs help smooth the departures from reality but also thrive in those fantastical moments (especially Sachs, in his delivery of the fables told by the grandfather). In the same vein, Duerden’s characterization of Natalia as a pragmatic physician unalarmed by the horrors of war and sickness is equally informed. However, Natalia is passionate about one thing understanding her grandfather’s life and death. The Tiger’s Wife is an enchanting story that will stay with you long after you finish listening.
“Téa Obreht is the most thrilling literary discovery in years.” (Colum McCann)
“A novel of surpassing beauty, exquisitely wrought and magical. Téa Obreht is a towering new talent.” (T. C. Boyle)
“A marvel of beauty and imagination. Téa Obreht is a tremendously talented writer.” (Ann Patchett)
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