Sara's Reviews > The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
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Jul 18, 12

Read in August, 2011

From the moment I first read a review of this book, I really wanted to like it. I thought the premise sounded interesting, and the author was praised for her highly superior writing skills.

Well, I will agree that Tea Obreht can write a beautiful sentence; a beautiful paragraph ... her writing flows very well. I tend to read with a very smooth, lyrical inner voice. In many novels, this trips me up at times because the author very suddenly changes sentence structure and interrupts the flow of the writing and the words themselves. This novel was a refreshing change in that regard, and at first I quite enjoyed it simply for this quality.

However, there is another flow a book must have, and that is a flow of story. Now, I'm not saying an author can't jump around in the telling, between points of view or side stories or time lines. I have certainly enjoyed novels that do this (an author that comes to mind is Kingsolver, who tends to change perspectives every chapter). But overall, there has to be a purpose to the jumping around. In this novel, I kept waiting for some indication of this, but I never got one, even at the end. The story didn't feel finished to me; it almost didn't feel like a story at all.

Another way in which I judge a novel is whether or not I *really* want to read it. It's not the sole indication of great writing, but for me to consider a book "good" I have to want to keep reading. Unfortunately, it was the exact opposite for this novel. I was constantly putting it down after, say, ten pages, and having to force myself to pick it back up. It's taken me a few weeks to read (with other things in between); this is an eternity for me. While there are a few compelling themes -- ones you must really search for -- their relevence to the novel was not frequent enough.

((Beware of spoilers at this point ...))

Which brings me to my next point. As other people have said, this book has WAY too much description of scenery. Now, I know it's literary fiction, and by definition there's more description and less action. But this book was bordering on ridiculous. I didn't need a three page description of Natalia walking to the crossroads, nor another five pages of her simply following the "mora" up the side of a hill and through the woods. As I just wanted to be done with the book, that part was especially excruciating for me. Description can be a wonderful thing when it advances the story. However, many of the descriptions in this novel not only lent nothing to the plot, but actually went on so long that they managed to isolate my attention from the point the author was trying to make, so that when I returned to the telling of the story, I felt disoriented by the characters.

I honestly think that this book could have been really excellent. The stories were interesting, and I enjoyed many of the characters, though I do agree with others that there was an emotional disconnect. Of course, this was probably done intentionally, to showcase the very impersonal nature of death, and so I won't argue with that. Even discounting that, though, I couldn't really feel the point of the story.

I'm having a little bit of trouble putting my finger on exactly what bugged me about this book, but here it is: one of the major themes, I think Natalia even says it in narrative at one point, is how these experiences from her grandfather's past, the stories he told her about the deathless man and the tiger's wife, colored his entire life experience. Yet I didn't feel like there was any connection between the boy who befriended the tiger's wife, the man who dealt with the deathless man, and the husband/father/granfather described in his interactions with Natalia. At the very least, no emotional connection, which is practically the only type that matters in a novel like this. After all, if the emotional disconnect from the characters was done on purpose because of the themes of death, wouldn't this contradict the point of the story as defined by Natalia, which, as I said above, is the way the two stories contributed to her grandfather's life and death?

All in all, I was just disappointed. Maybe it deserves more than two stars. Maybe I am being too hard on it because I had such high expectations and because I saw such promise that was never realized. But at the same time, I think that one of the hallmarks of great fiction is what it makes you feel, and I didn't feel anything at all while reading this novel.
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