The Tiger's Wife is one of those novels you pick up because you simply have to; its author was part of The New Yorker 's 20 under 40 selection, the no...moreThe Tiger's Wife is one of those novels you pick up because you simply have to; its author was part of The New Yorker 's 20 under 40 selection, the novel has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize (among other things) and it's been positively reviewed almost everywhere. You start reading it and can't really seem to understand what the fuss is all about... until, at some point, you're not quite sure when or how this brilliant author's done it, but you're hooked and you want more.
I'll admit that, as it is often the case with novels I end up thoroughly enjoying, its main theme, the one that drives the present-day narration, hit home. Though circumstances never allowed me to grow up knowing my grandfather as well as the main character does hers, I knew him enough to regret that he no longer is a part of my life fours years after his death; this man of the past, this connection to my mother's culture, language and country, one that no longer exists as it was, except in memories; this remarkable man who was also a doctor and who refused to flee his country even when it was in deep political turmoil. I too have always wanted to know more about this almost mythical grandfather, his childhood, his trips to Africa and France where he met my grandmother, his dreams and if all of them had come true, his fears, the best years of his life as it seems I was only there for his death. I too knew that he was ill and had been dying for a long time.
However, The Tiger's Wife cannot solely be reduced to its theme. Its form and structure are equally important and here all readers of folk tales and mythology will find themselves on familiar ground and enjoy the multiple story-lines and how they nicely tie in with another at the end. Though the novel never properly falls into magic realism, it comes very close to it.
The Tiger's Wife is as much a story about History as it is about stories and the power of storytelling. Its History, though never clearly stated, is that of Yugoslavia and the many wars that led to its divisions. The novel's towns and villages cannot be found on maps and, as such, might as well be imaginary. It's just as well, a too strong historical background might have required too much explanation and ended it up drowning the rest of the narration(s).
Its stories are that of the Deathless Man, the Tiger's Wife and how they defined and shaped the main character's grandfather. But they are also the stories the grandfather did not know, that of Luka the butcher, Galina's blacksmith and Darisa the bear. I found these stories to be more engaging than the present-day storyline, but they also echo with it and give it a strength it may not otherwise have possessed. Throughout these stories, the main protagonist hints at the research and people she's had to interview to unearth these tales from the past. Nevertheless, the narrator (and the reader) is well aware that these tales cannot possibly be entirely true; some have been twisted, others embellished or truncated. But isn't that what folk tales are? Collective stories that live on in the minds of entire populations? Isn't there some kind of truth to these collective retellings and reinterpretations? In a way, what we take out of folk tales reveals more about our nature than the story itself.
Some have criticized the novel's structure and how it gives too much space to these past and parallel subplots at the risk of drowning the main narration. I think those who agree with this have missed the point of the novel. The Tiger's Wife is about these 'subplots' (for lack of a better word but they're more than that) and about how these folktales and the magic they hold shape our lives and our understanding of the world. Perhaps, their inclusion is a bit too neat and systematic, but I've never found them to be dispensable. In the end, they confer this story which has no date, or place, its universality. The Tiger's Wife is a refreshing and magical debut from an author that we should all keep an eye on.(less)
Though I've had What I Loved on my shelf for over five years now, The Summer Without Men is actually the first book I've read by Siri Hustvedt and con...moreThough I've had What I Loved on my shelf for over five years now, The Summer Without Men is actually the first book I've read by Siri Hustvedt and considering the extent to which I was blown away, I can easily affirm that it won't be the last!
This short tale is part literary criticism and part feminist manifesto, but very little of it is actually a novel in the traditional definition of the genre. There is a story, a main character, a set of secondary characters more or less developed, there is an intrigue, though admittedly, not much goes on in terms of action. This is definitely a cerebral novel if such a thing exists. It's a bowl of fresh air, one that I will gladly re-read in a few years time and take notes next time.
Though this is not the first time this has happened, I am always amazed when an author manages to make his readers identify with a character who is miles away from them. Mia Fredricksen and I have a very little in common and yet, I understood and felt all that she was going through and took pleasure in following her progression throughout this summer without men. A pleasure owed to the author's talent.
There are so many parts I wish I'd bookmarked so that I could quote here to give you a feel of this peculiar novel. Here's one:
"It is not that there is no difference between men and women; it is how much difference that difference makes, and how we choose to frame it. Every era has had its science of difference and sameness, its biology, its ideology, and its ideological biology, which brings us, at last, back to the naughty girls, their escapades, and the instruments of darkness. We have several contemporary instruments of darkness to choose from, all reductive, all easy. Shall we explain it through the very special, although dubious otherness of the female brain or through genes evolved from those "cave women gathering food near the home" thousands of years ago or through the dangerous hormonal surges of puberty or through nefarious social learning that channels aggressive, angry impulses in girls underground?"
As you can see, the novel's intrigue serves as an overall reflection on women, their position and perception in society. Here, Mia's poetry teenage students have pulled a nasty little prank on one of the class' members. These are questions that I often ask myself, to what extent are our action our truly our own or socially-constructed?
The book is not out yet but there are already a few mixed reviews online, proof that every reading experience is different and resonates in a specific way with its reader. For me, this pushed all the right buttons.(less)
Before properly reviewing this book, I have to mention two things.
First, this is not the sort of book I usually turn to. I admit that I mostly decide...moreBefore properly reviewing this book, I have to mention two things.
First, this is not the sort of book I usually turn to. I admit that I mostly decided to check this out because it was translated by a friend of mine and that I wanted to have a better idea of what she worked on. That does not goes to say that I did not enjoy it. I think reading a outside of your comfort zone is always a positive experience.
Second, the French edition of this title does not exactly correspond to the original American edition which is entitled "Legend of a Suicide". "Sukkwan Island" is a novella part of "Legend of a Suicide" but the original book includes other short stories that complete the story told in the novella.
I finished this title a few days ago (being a novella, it was a fairly quick read, though not a light one by any means!) and I still don't really know what to think about it.
The first part of the novella, told from the point of view of the teenager, was really powerful; showing not just the technical and practical difficulties faced by father and son on this deserted island, but also the ugliness of human nature and the incapacity for this man to act as an adult, let alone as a father. So the son is forced to take matter in his own hands and well, there's no other way to this besides, that's when the book slaps you in the face!
Then, the narration's point of view shifts to the father and you feel a lot of pointless procrastination and meaningless mental wondering on the part of the father who sadly cannot come to terms with the novella's events, his life in general and his fatherhood. This character was constantly mistaken, so much so, that it is tragic. Till the end, he simply does not get it.
It's a tragic, poignant story that you probably shouldn't be reading if you're feeling down. It successfully depicts human nature in all its ugliness, selfishness and meaninglessness (is that even a word?) and it is well served by the short, incisive and bare style of the author.
However, despite all these qualities, I can't help but feel somewhat unsatisfied and frustrated by this reading. I couldn't figure out why until today. I initially thought it might have something to do with the gloomy aspect of the narration or perhaps, the crude narrative style. But now I doubt it.
When speaking with a friend about it I told her that I felt I may need to read more of the author's work to be able to put this novella into perspective and find a place for it in my mind, but also in the author's overall work. At the time, I was not aware of the fact that the French edition was in fact a truncated version of the original. I now believe that I would have needed to read the rest of the collection to have a clear opinion on this and do away with my own frustration.
I know a great many French readers did not feel this way so I'm not saying the editor was wrong to only publish one novella (I love Editions Gallmeister and I think they're doing the most fabulous work). I know how difficult it is to sell short stories collection these days. I'm glad this talented author has had a chance to be published in France, in a wonderful translation and is selling extremely well at that! I guess the frustration on my part can be interpreted as something positive in the sense that it means I need to read more from this author. Anyway, I definitely think this is an author to keep an eye on. (less)