aPriL purrs 'n hisses's Reviews > The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
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Jun 26, 11

bookshelves: literary, metafiction
Read in June, 2011

It's so sad. People create meaning out of events that befuddle and frighten them to help put context into the diary they write every sunset. There is the story of the isolated village with expected roles for each villager in relationship to the village reprised several times decades apart in the book. The outsiders that drift into the village's story where the inhabitants are not sure these newcomers aren't evil spirits rather than people no matter how long they stay. How fear compresses time and feelings into wild scapegoating and more superstitious explanations made to fit after hundreds of whispered consultations amongst neighbors. Then war and a tiger, impossible events to village thinking without some kind of magical evil being drawn by unknown disturbance to their already misty isolated forest village, cause a linking story of cause and effect in mythical terms about the tiger and an outsider child wife of their brute of a butcher. All this forms the background to the childhood of a beloved grandfather who dies mysteriously far from home. His granddaughter, recipient and confidant of her grandfather's stories, feels the need to flesh out the stories of his past, to make his death a meaningful death.

Modern science in the form of inoculations against disease are no match for religious beliefs hundreds of years old. Despite the university education, the medical degrees, the kind hearted motives of grandfather and granddaughter, the proven science of healing, no one can stop the destructive myth making behind the fear and grief caused by Death. Death cannot be simply a scientific process, it has to have a physical presence and an intelligence, motivation and purpose. It's powers can be suborned by evil spirits bent on wrecking ordinary family life. Death is impossible to think about unless somehow mythologized into mystical human patterns, hard science be damned.

I am someone who prefers the truth of science reality. This book reveals how the extreme human fear of meaningless death causes sad, to me, struggles of the mind for cause and effect in typical brain pathways throughout history, as well as how the interplay of community, the past and survival of the group means more than individual truth or reality. The survival of the tribe especially under stresses like Death bring the most primitive coping mechanisms into action. As the writer shows how love and fear twine together for the apparent necessity of mystic explanations about death, preferred over demeaning reality and shameful human behaviors and stupidities, it's left to personal reader interpretation of the exposed underbelly of our psychological response to death. I have a bad taste in my mouth reading this book and recognizing the twists people do to reject reality. Even the animals must resort to devastating acts for distraction from impossible fear. Sigh. A very depressing book.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Linda (new)

Linda Jeez, what a review! depressing


message 2: by Barb (new) - added it

Barb C You seem to have taken the book and your review a bit too seriously ... It's just a story. Pick up another book and read something else to take your mind off this one because it appears to have upset you.


aPriL purrs 'n hisses Barb wrote: "You seem to have taken the book and your review a bit too seriously ... It's just a story. Pick up another book and read something else to take your mind off this one because it appears to have up..."

Ok. Good advice. 300 books ago. (See date I read this June, 2011) Thankfully, I guess I got over myself.


Cecily Although death was such an inescapable theme of this book, I didn't find it depressing. At least, I didn't until I read your review! ;)

I felt a little hampered by my skimpy knowledge of the Balkans and their recent history; was that a factor for you?


aPriL purrs 'n hisses Actually, I had a fortuitous encounter with a 1970's PBS (a USA television station originally dedicated to televising shows that elevate, teach and illuminate, supposedly in contrast to regular ad-supported broadcast stations) television series about myths, based on non-fiction books written by author Joseph Campbell.

This TV series, 'The Power of Myth' described myths around the world, making plausible possible links between history, social psychology, religions and immigration of ideas. It literally blew my world-view at the time into a thousand pieces, having been raised in a narrow-minded and limited flatland of accepted, but unproved, platitudes taken as Truth About Life. To say it changed my understanding of the world is putting it mildly.

I immediately checked out the actual books the TV series was based on, which led to other things, such as the literature of the Ancient Greeks, Norse legends, stories from ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, India and China, Japan and Africa. I felt like I had been struck by lightening, as well as having been suckered by community truisms which turned out to be traditional lies, passed down without examination through uneducated generations.

So, yes. Tiger's Wife really resonated with me. I felt sad about the delusions people live with, and apparently need desparately sometimes, even if it means in the long-term a terrible quality of life and a stifling of possibility, if it helps them endure this day. I think a day-to-day life without internal growth or understanding is a horrible impoverishment. However, as a temporary survival measure against fear and ignorance, it works.

I went to a seminar at one point at work about how traditional business customs become accepted unchangeable knowledge over time, despite new facts. To illustrate, the speaker related a story of three generations of women cooking a turkey. Grandmother always cut off the north and south ends of the turkey before placing it into a roasting pan and shoving it into the oven. Mother dutifully followed the procedure when roasting the holiday meal; and later she taught her daughter the same procedure. When the daughter had her family, she began to teach her children how to roast a turkey. Suddenly, as she placed the trimmed bird in the roasting pan, she wondered why she needed to cut off the ends. It was a waste of perfectly good meat, expensive as well. Calling her mother, she discovered she did not know why, but had always followed her mother's directions without thought. So they called Grandmother.

Grandmother guffawed so hard she had to sit down. Wiping tears from her eyes, she said, "I had to cut the turkey down to fit into the small roaster." At that time, Grandmother's roasting pan, the only one she could afford, was too small for the smallest turkey.

The daughters had completely misunderstood the Grandmother's practical cooking protocol for a meaningful tradition, full of numinous emotion and understood as necessary for a successful endeavor. The daughters, of course, had modern large stoves, and large commonly available roasters in which their 20 lb. birds easily fit, along with various other edibles.


Cecily That's fascinating, thanks. Your deeper knowledge is probably partly why you were able to engage with the book better than I could.


Natalia Pì @Cecily: I have lived in Turkey and crossed the Balkans on two different occasions, venturing away from the coastal tourist trail. I have learnt a lot on those trips, as one of those happened when the scars from the war were rather fresh. Houses still had holes from bullets and shells.I have been to the City, which I assume is Belgrade, from the description of the zoo. I found it helped to know Balkan history, and having visited, mostly to see through the writer's vagueness about it, but other than that I found it did not matter. A lot of the themes tackled in the novel are universal.
I enjoyed the book and did not find it depressing, personally. actually, as someone who has lost a close relative, I found the parts about Natalia's relationship to her grandpa heartwarming, as well as heartbreaking, because love, in all its forms, is a universal feeling.


Cecily I didn't find it depressing (despite all the deaths, some of them rather strange), just a little... disorganised, and requiring a little more knowledge than I had. I will be interested to see what her next novel is like: she's still pretty young, and she clearly has talent, even though I, personally, didn't rate this book especially highly.


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