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The Tiger's Wife: A Novel
by Téa Obreht

Published: 2011-11-01
Paperback : 0 pages
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NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERNAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Wall Street Journal • O: The Oprah Magazine • The Economist • Vogue • Slate • Chicago Tribune • The Seattle Times • Dayton Daily News • Publishers Weekly • Alan Cheus...
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Introduction

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Wall Street Journal • O: The Oprah Magazine • The Economist • Vogue • Slate • Chicago Tribune • The Seattle Times • Dayton Daily News • Publishers Weekly • Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered
 
SELECTED ONE OF THE TOP 10 BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times • Entertainment Weekly • The Christian Science Monitor • The Kansas City Star • Library Journal

In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.

Look for special features inside. Join the Circle for author chats and more.

Editorial Review

Author One-on-One: Jennifer Egan and Téa Obreht

Jennifer Egan is the recipient of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, which was also awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the author of The Keep, Look at Me, and the story collection Emerald City. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, Harperâ??s Magazine, GQ, Zoetrope: All-Story, and Ploughshares, and her nonfiction appears frequently in The New York Times Magazine. She lives with her husband and sons in Brooklyn.

Jennifer Egan: One of the central powerful relationships in the book is between Natalia and her grandfather: itâ??s not the type of relationship we usually see as the primary relationship in a novel. Could you talk a little about that grandparent-grandchild relationship, your feelings about it in your own life and how it became central in this novel?

Téa Obreht: I grew up with my grandparents on my motherâ??s side, and they essentially raised me. As a kid, you resist the idea of your own parents having had lives and pasts of their own. Snuff me out if Iâ??m wrong here, but I see that as something prevalent in your novel A Visit From the Goon Squad: a sense of the parent-child relationship being very tense and of children not wanting to live in their parentsâ?? shadow. When youâ??re growing up, the lives of your parents arenâ??t that fascinating, but there is this fascination with grandparents. Because of that great amount of time that has passed between their youth and yours, and the fact that they lived entire lives before you even got there, you canâ??t really deny their identity as individuals prior to your existence they way perhaps you can with your parents. Thereâ??s also an awareness that the world was very different when they were living their lives.

Egan: Animals play such an enormous role in the novel: the tiger, the dog, Sonia the elephant, Darisa who seems to be part-human, part-bear. You write so movingly about animals that I found myself close to tears every time you wrote about the tiger from the tigerâ??s point of view. Do you have a strong connection to animals in your life? How is it that animals end up figuring so enormously in this story?

Obreht: Iâ??m definitely, it turns out, the kind of person whoâ??s a total National Geographic nerd. Iâ??m there for all the TV specials. As Iâ??ve gotten older I think my awareness of the natural world and animalsâ?? relationship to people--both culturally and biologically--has grown. It was fun to write from the point of view of the tiger, and emotionally rewarding, but I think the animals also serve almost as markers around which the characters have to navigate. I donâ??t think that was something I did consciously, it just sort of happened. There is something jarring about seeing an animal out of place: thereâ??s a universal feeling of awe when you see an animal, particularly an impressive animal, out of place.

Egan: There are really two worlds in the book which mingle and sometimes intersect: thereâ??s the present day political, medical, scientific situation in which Natalia operates, and then thereâ??s this more mystical, folkloric world of the grandfatherâ??s past. How did these define themselves in your mind? Was it hard to move between them?

Obreht: Pretty early on in the writing I realized that mythmaking and storytelling are a way in which people deal with reality. Theyâ??re a coping mechanism. In Balkan culture, thereâ??s almost a knowledge that reality will eventually become myth. In ten or twenty years you will be able to recount what happened today with more and more embellishments until youâ??ve completely altered that reality and funneled it into the world of myth.


A Letter from the Author

Téa Obreht was born in Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia in 1985 and has lived in the United States since the age of twelve. Her writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harperâ??s, and The Guardian, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. She has been named by The New Yorker as one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty and included in the National Book Foundationâ??s list of 5 Under 35. Téa Obreht lives in New York.

After completing my first novel, The Tigerâ??s Wife, Iâ??ve found myself indulging in a sentimental mood. I pretend that this is due to my need to retrace my steps, to see how it all came together, and, by remembering what I did before, somehow speed my next project along; in fact, I am probably just procrastinating or being insufferable, mulling over memories that, due to the late hours, were doomed to an impregnable haze a long time ago. I dig through my â??notesâ??: folded scraps of paper, the backs of torn-open envelopes where I doodled plot points and lines of dialogue, index cards with cryptic inscriptionsâ??â??BUT WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WATERMELON?!?!?â??â??punctuated as though Iâ??d had some kind of civilization-saving breakthrough.

For whatever reason, as I go through my notes, I spend much of my time revisiting the evolution of my characters.  Whoâ??s been there the longest? Who was thrown out at the last minute? Who was the life and soul of the first draft, and then ended up with one dialogue in the third? Whoâ??s been renamed, transformed completely into somebody else?

>In some ways, the answers to these questions are both pointless and intensely personal, like telling a long-distance friend about how youâ??ve fallen in love with a person they have never met: they can listen politely while you rattle off a list of traits or events, but a whole world of experience separates the storyteller from the listener. But I do believe that thinking about these things gets back to the vital question of artistic control, and the surprising ways in which your work takes on a life of its own. In The Tigerâ??s Wife, I found, of course, that core of the cast membersâ?? a tiger, his â??wife,â?? a little boyâ??were all together at the outset, in the spring of 2007, peopling a lackluster short story about a deaf-mute girl who arrives in a snowbound village in pursuit of the escaped tiger with whom she performed in a traveling circus. But, to my surprise, I also found a then-minor character called DariÅ¡a the Bear.

Originally, he was a mean drunk, a ruthless and uncomplicated villain, hardened by religious fanaticism, and I wanted the readerâ??s revulsion with him to be simple and complete. When the story began to expand, and the village of Galina and the characters who live there expanded with it, there was no room for DariÅ¡a; his kind of villainy had been eclipsed by a far more sinister character, and he was extracted and put away. He wouldnâ??t find his way into the book again until one afternoon, almost a year later, when I found myself at the Moscow flea market of Ismailovaâ??a townie-shunned tourist trap against which the few Russians I knew had cautioned meâ??and among the predictable lacquered matrioshkas, bootleg DVDs, prints of Soviet propaganda and fake Fabergé baubles, I met the bear-man. I canâ??t picture his face anymore, but I do remember that he had pitched his booth at the top of a wide, stone staircase, and that, draping down from the top like water, were the pelts of maybe two dozen brown bears of all shapes and shades, mouths agape. We must have talkedâ??I canâ??t imagine not asking him where he was from, or whether he had done the killing himselfâ??but I donâ??t remember the conversation. What I do remember is going home that afternoon and dredging up a man reincarnated as DariÅ¡a the Bear, a hunter and taxidermist whose obsession with death, drawn from great personal loss, is rooted in his desire to understand and preserve the majesty of things once living.

I would never have thought, at the outset of all of this, that of all the characters in The Tigerâ??s Wife, I would end up feeling closest to DariÅ¡a. Perhaps it is because in a roundabout way I have ultimately spent so much time with him; perhaps it is because, in the end, he becomes a man who seeks to capture life in the absence of it. After all, isnâ??t that what storytellers really do?


Excerpt

Obreht: THE TIGER'S WIFE

1

The Coast

the forty days of the soul begin on the morning after death. That first night, before its forty days begin, the soul lies still against sweated-on pillows and watches the living fold the hands and close the eyes, choke the room with smoke and silence to keep the new soul from the doors and the windows and the cracks in the floor so that it does not run out of the house like a river. The living know that, at daybreak, the soul will leave them and make its way to the places of its past—the schools and dormitories of its youth, army barracks and tenements, houses razed to the ground and rebuilt, places that recall love and guilt, difficulties and unbridled happiness, optimism and ecstasy, memories of grace meaningless to anyone else—and sometimes this journey will carry it so far for so long that it will forget to come back. For this reason, the living bring their own rituals to a standstill: to welcome the newly loosed spirit, the living will not clean, will not wash or tidy, will not remove the soul’s belongings for forty days, hoping that sentiment and longing will bring it home again, encourage it to return with a message, with a sign, or with forgiveness. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Natalia says that the key to her grandfather’s life and death
“lies between two stories: the story of the tiger’s wife, and the
story of the deathless man.” What power do the stories we tell
about ourselves have to shape our identity and help us understand
our lives?

2. Which of the different ways the characters go about making
peace with the dead felt familiar from your own life? Which
took you by surprise?

3. Natalia believes that her grandfather’s memories of the village
apothecary “must have been imperishable.” What lesson do
you think he might have learned from what happened to the
Apothecary?

4. What significance does the tiger have to the different characters
in the novel: Natalia, her grandfather, the tiger’s wife, the
villagers? Why do you think Natalia’s grandfather’s reaction to
the tiger’s appearance in the village was so different than the
rest of the villagers?

5. “The story of this war—dates, names, who started it, why—
that belongs to everyone,” Natalia’s grandfather tells her. But
“those moments you keep to yourself” are more important. By
eliding place names and specific events of recent Balkan history,
what do you think the author is doing?

6. When the deathless man and the grandfather share a last
meal before the bombing of Sarobor, the grandfather urges the
deathless man to tell the waiter his fate so he can go home and
be with his family. Is Gavran Gailé right to decide to stop
telling people that they are going to die? Would you rather
know your death was coming or go “in suddenness”?

7. Did knowing more about Luka’s past make him more sympathetic?
Why do you think the author might have chosen to
give the back stories of Luka, Dariša the Bear, and the apothecary?

8. The copy of The Jungle Book Natalia’s grandfather always
carries around in his coat pocket is not among the possessions
she collects after his death. What do you think happens to it?

9. The novel moves back and forth between myth and modern-
day “real life.” What did you think of the juxtaposition of
folklore and contemporary realism?

10. Of all the themes of this novel—war, storytelling, family,
death, myth, etc.—which one resonated the most for you?

From the publisher

Suggested by Members

Why is the novel named "The Tiger's Wife" and is her character truly the central one?
by sonyalmoore (see profile) 11/13/12

Compare folktales from other countries that deal with death
Look at the world maps and how the boundaries of Yugoslavia have changed over the years.
Look at the religious sects living in the area and how this created war and pitted neighbors against each other.(War between the states in the US for comparison)
by jlciaraffo (see profile) 02/27/12

Who is the mora?
by Ccorn (see profile) 06/26/11

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Praise:

Praise

Advance praise for The Tiger’s Wife

“[A] brilliant debut…[Téa] Obreht is an expert at depicting history through aftermath, people through the love they inspire, and place through the stories that endure; the reflected world she creates is both immediately recognizable and a legend in its own right. Obreht is talented far beyond her years, and her unsentimental faith in language, dream, and memory is a pleasure.”

– Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Not even Obreht’s place on The New Yorker’s current “20 Under 40” list of exceptional writers will prepare readers for the transporting richness and surprise of this gripping novel of legends and loss…[Contains] moments of breathtaking magic, wildness and beauty…Every word, every scene, every thought is blazingly alive in this many-faceted, spellbinding, and rending novel of death, succor, and remembrance.” – Booklist, starred review

“Dizzyingly nuanced yet crisp, [and] muscularly written…This complex, humbling, and beautifully crafted debut from one of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 is highly recommended for anyone seriously interested in contemporary fiction.”

– Library Journal, starred review

“A cracking, complex, gorgeously wrought saga that resonates as a meditation on life, love…and our responsibility to the stories we inherit from our grandparents…Obreht is a natural literary descendant of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Gabriel Garcia Marquez….The Tiger’s Wife is an original and wonderful novel…It makes for a thrilling beginning to what will certainly be a great literary career.” – Kate Christensen, Elle

“Deftly walks the line between the realistic and the fantastical…In Obreht’s expert hands, the novel’s mythology, while rooted in a foreign world, comes to seem somehow familiar, like the dark fairy tales of our own youth, the kind that spooked us into reading them again and again…[Reveals] oddly comforting truths about death, belief in the impossible, and the art of letting go.” – O: The Oprah Magazine

“Téa Obreht is the most thrilling literary discovery in years.” —Colum McCann

“A novel of surpassing beauty, exquisitely wrought and magical. Téa Obreht is a towering new talent.”—T. C. Boyle

“A marvel of beauty and imagination. Téa Obreht is a tremendously talented writer.”—Ann Patchett

“It is difficult, maybe impossible, when reading a hotly anticipated first novel by a celebrated 25-year-old-writer, not to think about her age, to subconsciously search for evidence of callowness, inexperience and showiness…I opened The Tiger’s Wife prepared to empathize with [Téa] Obreht’s youth, and to temper my reaction if the novel didn’t, as a whole, stand up to the expectations and hype. Because, really how could it? But the book does, and then some. Obreht is a natural literary descendant of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Gabriel García Marquez…After a few pages I forgot her age entirely except to marvel at the precocity of her work’s vast intelligence, at the beauty of her descriptive prose, at her authoritative voice, and her controlled mastery of a complex narrative…The Tiger’s Wife is an original and wonderful novel…It makes for a thrilling beginning to what will certainly be a great literary career.” – Kate Christensen, reviewing for Elle

“One of the most extraordinary debut novels of recent memory…A gorgeous farrago of stories in which realism collides with myth, superstition with empirical fact, and allegory with history…Obreht elides the sentimental Chagall villages that other writers have made of Eastern Europe, crafting instead something far more ambitious, and universal: an apotheosis of storytelling as a bulwark against brutality – and a balm for grief.” – Vogue

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Complex but beautiful"by dchase21 (see profile) 07/06/13

This book is a difficult read. If you're looking for fluff don't read it but if thought provoking discussion is what your club enjoys go for it. It is complex in nature and style. Obreht moves from the... (read more)

 
  "Beautifully written"by lucindy (see profile) 05/06/13

A little confusing at times but the author writes in such a way that I can't help but read some passages over and over - she made me feel the story, not just read it.

 
  "The Tiger's Wife"by vernandglen (see profile) 04/26/13

 
  "Tantalized by "The Tiger's Wife""by sonyalmoore (see profile) 11/13/12

The beautiful lyrical writing caught me immediately but the three stories which weave around each other are the true fascination. The first story is that of the relationship between her grandfather and... (read more)

 
  "Cool book"by Abby0814 (see profile) 10/05/12

 
  "The Tigers Wife"by traveler1 (see profile) 09/12/12

I didn't care for this at all---in fact I didn't finish it.

 
  "The Tiger's Wife"by pagersp (see profile) 08/06/12

This book is very hard to describe. It was not my favorite book to read and most of the group did not really care for it. However, we did have a very good discussion about the book regarding death.

 
  "Tigers wife"by jpr1506 (see profile) 06/03/12

 
  "The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht"by californiasurfpoodle (see profile) 05/23/12

My book club tried to read this book but to tell the truth I was the only person to finish it. We all agreed that the author has potential but this book was just a hot mess. The chapters did not flow smoothly... (read more)

 
  "The Tiger's Wife"by ppollina (see profile) 05/13/12

Just couldn't build momentum with this book. Long, run on sentences. Only one member of our club finished this book and felt it was not worth sticking it out.

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