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149 of 157 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deserving of the hype - ambitious and richly textured
Téa Obreht's "The Tiger's Wife" comes with a fair degree of hype from the US, and largely it lives up to it, which is no small achievement. The main story is set in Yugoslavia and explores a young doctor, Natalia, seeking for the truth about her grandfather's death, while on a mission to deliver much needed medical aid to an orphanage in the war-ravaged Balkans...
Published on 3 April 2011 by Ripple

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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Tiger who came to Téa
If you are a devotee of folklore and magic realism, The Tiger's Wife might appeal to you, but it did nothing for me. I dutifully ploughed my way through, hoping things would pick up, but they never did. I don't doubt that Tea Obreht can write, but I found this dull and heavy handed, sinking under the weight of its own self consciousness. There was far too much back-story...
Published on 16 Jun. 2011 by Tamara L


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149 of 157 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deserving of the hype - ambitious and richly textured, 3 April 2011
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Hardcover)
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Téa Obreht's "The Tiger's Wife" comes with a fair degree of hype from the US, and largely it lives up to it, which is no small achievement. The main story is set in Yugoslavia and explores a young doctor, Natalia, seeking for the truth about her grandfather's death, while on a mission to deliver much needed medical aid to an orphanage in the war-ravaged Balkans. But what sets this book apart is the intricate weaving of reality with the myths and stories of the region. In particular there are two myths that represent a good chunk of the page count: the story of a tiger who has escaped from captivity after the World War two bombing of Belgrade and who has settled near a remote mountain village where Natalia's grandfather is growing up, and who develops a strange relationship with a deaf-mute girl who becomes known as "the tiger's wife"; and a mysterious story of the "Deathless Man" whom the grandfather encounters at various points in his life who appears to have the power to foresee others' death without being able to die himself.

Lovers of folk stories will love this combination, while those with a lack of tolerance for the more magical storytelling genre will inevitably find less appeal here. If you enjoyed Yann Martel's "Life of Pi", another tiger-featuring imaginative book, then this will be right up your street.

It's a surprisingly ambitious structure for such a young, first-time author and in most respects, she carries it off with aplomb, although I suspect that with a little more experience, some of the storytelling could have been tightened up slightly which would have enhanced the impact. At times the stories seem to drift on a bit. There were certainly times when it had me completely wrapped up in the stories but at others I found myself more admiring than loving it.

At the heart of the book are the stories and superstitions that people have, particularly about trying to make sense of death, but also of war and conflict. Both of the main folk tales involve dealing with fear and ignorance. In part these stories survive in spite of, and perhaps because of conflict, but no matter who owns the lands, the stories remain with the people. Evidence of the cultural mix is abundant in the myths themselves - one reason for the eponymous tiger's wife's ostracism from village life is that she is a Muslim in a Christian village. Yet part of the message seems to be that "you can take away our land, but you cannot take away our stories", while at the same time the conflicts themselves give rise to even more folk tales to make sense of things.

At times, Obreht writes with terrific beauty and always with a rich imagination and sense of love both to the Balkan region and in the relationship between Natalia and her grandfather, a good doctor himself who carries with him a tattered copy of "The Jungle Book". She also concentrates on the human story rather than getting dragged into the politics of the region, which is a good thing.

It's a magical and beautiful set of stories. She has the ability to describe rich lives in a few short pages, and it's here that the book positively soars. However, at times also the stories seem to take on a life of their own and would benefit from reigning in a little. I'd urge you to read this though and make up your own mind. There's no doubt though that Obreht is an exciting new talent.
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Tiger who came to Téa, 16 Jun. 2011
By 
Tamara L (North West England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Paperback)
If you are a devotee of folklore and magic realism, The Tiger's Wife might appeal to you, but it did nothing for me. I dutifully ploughed my way through, hoping things would pick up, but they never did. I don't doubt that Tea Obreht can write, but I found this dull and heavy handed, sinking under the weight of its own self consciousness. There was far too much back-story to the characters which had the effect of dragging things down instead of moving things forward. The histories of all the people who graced its pages; the butcher, the blacksmith, Darisa the Bear, his sister Magdalena, the tiger's wife's sister etc. etc. were over-long and overdrawn. Even as the book should have been drawing to a close we still had to endure interminable detail about people like the apothecary and blind Orlo. There was clunky symbolism; many, many unnecessary characters (what was the point of Zora?); too much clutter, and no clear line through. Although set in the former Yugoslavia there is a lack of specificity, factions are referred to as simply `the other side' so I was never really clear who was who, which didn't aid my understanding of this conflict. Of course that was deliberate but it didn't work.

Much has been written in the other reviews about the deathless man and the tiger's wife herself (of whom the author unwisely tries to conjure up a logical explanation at the end). I just felt it was all a load of hokum.

The reading group notes in the back of the book were crass. I can't imagine them stimulating any debate (Was it any good? would be my first discussion question). There was even a two page plot summary preceding them. Presumably for those who just turn up for the wine and the company and can't be bothered reading the actual book (in this case, a good plan).

Two stars might seem unfair, I've given three to much worse books but I felt entitled to some redress. After spending so many wasted evenings losing the will to live I was beginning to feel like the deathless woman. A lot of people will be rushing to buy this book since it won the Orange Prize. I would say don't bother. Go back to the short list. Read Aminatta Forna (my personal first choice), Emma Donoghue, Emma Henderson, Nicole Krauss ... all different in their own way and all more satisfying than this.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Debut, Signs of Promise, But Something Was Lacking a Little, 10 Jun. 2011
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Hardcover)
I probably would have wanted to read Téa Obreht's debut novel at some point regardless of its inclusion on the Orange Prize long and short lists and then winning it because, regardless of the hype of her being claimed a young writer to watch, I like books that are rather magical and `fairytale for grown ups' was one of the things I kept hearing in regard to `The Tiger's Wife' when it was mentioned. It is also a novel about the country formerly known as Yugoslavia and its break up, a subject which fascinates me. I actually holidayed there as a child and was fascinated by the news as this country was torn apart. So its interesting that while aspects of it were brilliance, overall I was left a tiny bit let down. Let me explain...

For me one of the greatest charms of `The Tiger's Wife' was the story of the relationship between grandfather and grandchild. Our narrator, Natalia a doctor, tells us the tale of her grandfather's life from the memories she has of him and the tales that he told her of his former life after she learns from her grandmother that he has died in mysterious circumstances and after he disappeared telling everyone he was going to see Natalia. It's the mystery, the fact some of his possessions are missing and the need to understand him that sets Natalia on a mental, rather than physical, journey to work out just who her grandfather was.

The thing I loved about the novel also became the thing that I didn't love so much about it. As the story goes on we are introduced to the myths and fables of her grandfather's life. Whilst I love these sort of `fairytales for adults', sometimes I was just confused by them. I would read them, like the tale of the deathless man, really enjoy them and yet be left wondering as to their relevance as a whole. In being rather surreal I felt that Téa Obreht lost me in places no matter how enjoyable, funny and magical the mini story which creates the overall story (anyone else getting a bit confused?) was I couldn't get it to work overall.

The same applied to the title character/fable of `The Tiger's Wife', it was all wonderfully written and inventive but... but... but... something wasn't quite working for me. It seemed in some ways to be a book made up of many things, yes I know most books are but these things didn't quite connect. It seemed to want to be a book of myth and of storytelling, a book of war and a book of love - both of the family and a love story in some ways. I thought the way Obreht discussed how the country was fracturing and yet no one initially sensed danger until loved ones went missing was superb. It was only a part of the book though. In some ways there were two books in one. In fact the best way to summarise this novel would be to say that I think the sum of its parts are fantastic, and would have made a great short story collection yet as a body of work it didn't quite gel in the way I was hoping or maybe even expecting, that could be me more than the book or the author.

That said I did like this novel a lot. I particularly enjoyed the mini-stories, and would happily read a collection of fables should Téa Obreht write one, in fact I am hoping she does. As for the hype around Téa Obreht being one of the finest young authors around, I would agree to an extent. I found the writing in `The Tiger's Wife' was impressive, funny, dark, honest, and quite compelling in many respects. I just didn't quite connect with it personally (where emotion is occasionally lacking imagination is certainly in abundance) yet I certainly enjoyed getting lost, and occasionally confused by it. I will definitely read her next novel or collection.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overpraised....., 17 July 2011
By 
S. Moore "NewWave" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Paperback)
Perhaps my expectations were raised too high given the awarding of the 2011 Orange Prize and all the ecstatic reviews the novel has received. Perhaps disappointment was inevitable. It is far from the finished masterpiece I was expecting. And I was bored by some of it, which was another surprise for me; the backstories of the Apothecary and Luka were tedious because they served the plot but were dramatically unengaging. The contemporary framing narrative of Natalia's quest to find the reason for her grandfather's journey struck me as perfunctory and Natalia is very thinly drawn - a hook on which to hang the folktale element. This element is very powerful at times but rather unbalances the novel and feels unintegrated into Natalia's story making the novel seem disjointed. There are some first-rate scenes (the grandfather's dinner with the Deathless Man in `Sarobor' immediately before the Bosnian Serb onslaught for example) but it never quite coheres. Lastly, I don't understand why such a fuss has been made about the fine prose style. Yes, it can be fine as in the `Sarobor' dinner but more generally is serviceable. Occasionally it is bizarre, reading like a bad translation: `While the villagers of Galina are reluctant to talk about the tiger and his wife, they will never hesitate to tell you stories of one of the lateral participants in their story' (p.237). What?!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strangely beautiful exploration of myth, 17 Jun. 2011
By 
Mark Shackelford "mark shackelford" (Worthing, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Hardcover)
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Natalia, a recently qualified doctor goes to an orphanage in the next country to help inoculate the children.

The story becomes a journey into her family's history, the nightmare past of her country and helps her understand the present time as she appreciates and comes to terms with her own history. Her grandfather had died in mysterious circumstances, apparently on his way to see Natalia. She finds this odd as she was unaware of his intended visit, and he had been diagnosed with a terminal disease that he kept concealed, and she suspects there is some secret reason for his journey.

Natalia goes back to the stories that her grandfather told her when she was young. Amongst the tales, she finds the "The Tiger's Wife", and through this story and others, she finds out some of the story of her grandfather's life.

It is not immediately obvious how all these stories link back to the original mystery. But reading these stories is more important than solving the mystery, showing how stories are important to us in our lives, how myths and legends shape our lives, and come to form part of the reality that we live in. How belief can sometimes be stronger than truth or reality, and how we often hide behind these myths, to avoid the unpleasant truth of our responsibilities and relationships.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book groups, beware, 14 Oct. 2011
By 
This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Paperback)
This novel is hugely frustrating. An ambitious and clever concept with some elements of superb storytelling, it is ultimately too baggy and disjointed to be properly engaging. The same is true of Tea Obreht's writing; some of it is hauntingly beautiful and evocative, but she is horribly prone to overblown descriptions and subclauses.

The Tiger's Wife is a natural choice for book groups, but I would urge them to avoid the suggestions for discussion at the back of my edition (a Phoenix paperback). If "Why, in Darisa's dream, were the tiger and his wife always eating heads?" is one of the most pertinent questions raised by the novel, then I really have missed something.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Little bit stereotypical and too long fairy tale about the Balkans..., 19 Nov. 2013
By 
Denis Vukosav - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Paperback)
I wasn't aware of all the praises this novel and its author received but read it by chance, based on the other books' recommendations. From the beginning I was feeling little bit disappointed and feeling was even stronger when I came to the end.

There are aspects of "The Tiger's Wife" written by Tea Obreht that are nice but in my opinion novel doesn't live up to the overwhelming praise received. Author cannot be denied knowledge to conjure up beautiful images with her sentences, to express herself in English very well, although it is not her native language (the book I read was in English, but occasionally I compared it with the version in Serbian).

But looking novel in general it seems to me that this is just another literary work that has shown a desire to picture Balkans, its customs and beliefs as something exotic, mystical and fantastic in order to attract readers. Like in many other books by authors from the Balkans, especially ones which are not living there anymore, that geographical area is shown as quite backward, with traditions gone for hundreds of years or non-existent at all even in ancient history.

My other complaint about this novel is author's will to focus and prolong parts of the book describing the mystic legends where she excels with her ability of imagination and writing, but in same time failing to give more characterization and depth to the characters in real world.

I wanted to like "The Tiger's Wife" and in the end asked myself what I wasn't able to get form this novel and other readers succeeded. I'm aware there are lot of those who loved it, regretfully I cannot say I'm one of them.

If you look this book as a fairy tale, pure fiction, then feel free to raise my score by 1 star, but because of all mentioned reasons I cannot recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, slightly strange juxtaposition of storylines, 10 April 2013
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Paperback)
Set in an unspecified part of the Balkans, 'The Tiger's Wife' is a strange mixture of a book. It is certainly well written and readable, and the ideas are original and unusual. This makes it an entertaining story overall and a good read. The principal narrator is a young doctor, travelling to an orphanage in a neighbouring Balkan country shortly after the civil war, and one thread of the story is about her experiences there and her reaction to the news that her beloved grandfather has died. There are also sections based on stories her grandfather told her, or that she later found out about him. One is the story of the 'tiger's wife' - a tale of a remote village stalked by an escaped tiger during the second World War. The other is the tale of the 'deathless man', am immortal man whom her grandfather claimed to have met on several occasions throughout his life. These three storylines sit together rather strangely, although each in its way is well written.

I found the lack of information about which country the narrator came from and which 'city' she lived in a bit frustrating. I know it shouldn't matter, but given the complexity of the subject of the Balkan civil war, it would have helped me to have some reference points that I could have used to read up and therefore understand and appreciate those elements of the story more. The aftermath of the war is a topic that is rich with possibilities for moving fiction, and an opportunity for readers like myself who know less than they should to gain a greater understanding of this terrible conflict. Whilst I did gain some insight, I felt there could have been more. On the other hand, perhaps Obrecht consciously diluted the war-talk with the more magical storylines, to give a more nuanced picture of her region.

There is a slightly magic-realist, surreal element to the story, although this is very downplayed. Using the voice of the grandfather makes his stories possible to dismiss as just that, stories. There is nothing overtly weird about the book overall, and the reader can choose to believe the more supernatural elements or dismiss them. I think this ethereal element lends another dimension to the book and elevates it above the average. It is not a terribly compelling read, but I did enjoy it whilst I was reading. I suspect it is not a book that will stay with me for a long time as it's emotional impact is not that high. But for all that, it's a good piece of writing, particularly for a first novel.

I would recommend this to readers who like literary fiction, and I think this author will definitely be one to watch in future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht, 14 Oct. 2011
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This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Paperback)
The Tiger's Wife is set in former Yugoslavia in the years following the recent war. It follows Natalia, a young doctor on an aid mission to an orphanage who learns of her grandfather's death of cancer, as she seeks to find answers to the circumstances surrounding her grandfather's death.

Obreht has a natural talent for story-telling and the story of Natalia's grandfather's life is told as a series of myths and folktales. The main story of the Tiger's Wife relates to a tiger that escapes from the zoo and settles in the forests surrounding the grandfather's boyhood village. The tiger is a constant and ominous presence for the villagers and is befriended by the mistreated, deaf-mute wife of the local butcher. The second main tale concerns that of the Deathless Man, who the grandfather encounters a few times throughout his life. This is a young man who can foresee the death of others whilst not being able to age or die himself. The author tells these tales beautifully and they are absorbing. The backdrop of a country recovering from war emphasises the need for people to retain their traditions and identities through the passing down of stories.

This book was a lovely read and I can see why it won the Orange Prize, the prose is beautiful and the stories are original and compelling. My main problem with the book is that it didn't come together as a whole. I liked the tale of the Deathless Man and I liked the story of the Tiger's Wife but they were completely unrelated to one another. I thought the stories would overlap somehow but all they had in common was the grandfather. I think this book is worth less as a whole than the sum of its parts so perhaps Obreht should have limited the number of stories within this book and saved them for her future novels. She is young and obviously brimming with ideas so I'm sure there will be much more to come from her. This is a wonderful read but not quite good enough to get 5 stars from me.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heritage of Folktales makes sense of War-torn Former Yugoslavia, 12 Sept. 2011
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Paperback)
It is easy to see why this book won the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction. It has an unusual theme and approach, weaving together a grandfather's tall stories based on Balkan-style folktales and the experience of Natalia, a young doctor trying to cope with the aftermath of the grim war which caused the recent fracture of the former Yugoslavia, and with the death of her much-loved grandfather. Still only in her mid-twenties, the author is a gifted storyteller with an impressive command of English learned as a second language. I am not sure whether she sometimes misuses words by mistake, or is just trying to be original and poetical, but you cannot deny Tea Obreht's striking and unusual use of language.

Although I am no lover of magic realism, I was most impressed by the storytelling, in particular the tale of the "deathless man" who cannot be killed, even if shot through the head or drowned - a sceptical scientist, Natalia's grandfather is tantalised by the mounting evidence for this which flies in the face of reason. Obreht clearly loves animals, of which there are some wonderful descriptions - the tiger leaving footprints in the snow, round as dinner plates, or the elephant recaptured after its escape from the war-damaged zoo.

At first I was irritated by the lack of clarity as to exactly which country we are in - Montenegro, Croatia. Bosnia ? - which border we are close to, and so on. Then I realised that this is not the point. Obreht simply wants to create a sense of the superstition and prejudice, the deep-seated and irrational hatred between Christians and Moslems, the brutality and unthinking futility of war, and the residue of damage for the survivors. Then there is of course the simple expression of grief over the death of a close relative, regardless of whether there is peace or war.

I found the descriptions of Natalia's work the least satisfying, too many minor scenes of little interest, and in need of editing. Some of the later tales told to Natalia by her grandfather become rather tedious and rambling, getting bogged down in excessive back story about the early lives of Luka the sadistic butcher, Darisa the bear hunter and the village apothecary.

From the outset, Obreht skilfully manages to arouse the reader's interest by covering events through a series of separate scenes which move back and forth in time. Natalia's attempt to find out more about her grandfather's death and to obtain his belongings has a touch of the detective novel. Towards the end, the plot loses structure and pace. Again perhaps deliberately, it becomes even more fragmented and further parts company with reality, proving a little too fey and nebulous for my taste, although there is a persistent rather odd attempt to provide rational explanations for implausible events.
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