I’m a little behind my book reviews for The Tale of Hodja Nasreddin by Leonid Solovyov and The Hunger Games by Suzanna Collins. To catch-up, I’ll start on the latest book: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht.
I have read fiction of the Balkans before – none of them happy, but each sad in their own way. Back in secondary school, I read S.: The Novel of the Balkans by Slavenka Drakulic. It gave a vivid emotional story to the cruel violence, torture and sexual slavery that was very much a part of the Bosnian War. It will always be a brutal and saddening story, but with the war only five years old at the time of publishing it made the novel that more timely and raw.
In contrast, Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife is not about the Balkan War. Instead the novel is set against the complexities of the Balkans and easily interweaves and moves from the history to the folk tales that stretch from the the time of the Ottomans to immediately after the Balkan War. And even in these moments – be it more historical or folk tale, other elements overlap and interact: 1) Geography, a topic one cannot avoid in the Balkans; and 2) the impact and interactions of animals (yes, including a tiger).
Yet with all all these rich elements in play, so much of story is left unsaid and open-ended. No country or specific region is ever mentioned. No dates (other than seasons) ever stated. So much is left unsaid, yet the novel is still rich and vivid.
Between all this, the central character in the novel is a woman and her relationship with her grandfather. And as the main character moves through the many elements of the novel, so much of journey she brings to the reader are of more familiar mortal themes: death and remembering.