The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
Natalia is a doctor following in her grandfather’s footsteps. He used to take her to see the tiger at the zoo, but that was before the war. The war did terrible things to the land and to the people. Before the war, there was a time when magic might have existed. Natalia’s grandfather told her about how he met the deathless man and the tiger’s wife. Both people influenced his life and the choices he made.
At the beginning of the book, it seems that Natalia’s grandfather has finally had his drink with the deathless man. His body comes from some town no one has ever heard of minus his belongings. Natalia makes the journey there to get her grandfather’s possessions, minus his worn copy of The Jungle Book, which has apparently gone the way of the deathless man.
This story isn’t Natalia’s story; this story belongs to her grandfather. War shaped his life and death shaped his life. Tigers jumped into the storyline at various points to remind him of his beloved Shere Khan, whom he didn’t entirely think was a villain.
What I liked
There is some folklore in this book, which I really liked. There are stories about deathless men floating around the folklore of various countries. I kept being reminded of the Faceless God from Game of Thrones while reading about this particular deathless man.
The tale of the tiger’s wife isn’t so much folklore as a tragic tale, although her story does become folkloric to the people of her town.
The interactions with the deathless man were the most interesting parts of this story. You know, it is a little comforting to think that there is this person out there who comes to us when it’s our time to die and gently walks us into another state of being. Let’s hope that this is a thing.
What I didn’t like
It took me a while to read this book and I couldn’t particularly figure out why. It’s interesting, but not. It’s beautiful, but it’s all about death. Death meets us at every turn in this story. Death is in this city; death is in that city. We do all meet death at some point unless one of us happens to be a deathless man, but it’s not something we necessarily think about every single day. This book is imbued with death. That’s not a terrible thing, it can just be a bit boring because it’s something we all do.
The story is a little slow. It’s not The Historian slow, but it’s definitely moved at what seemed like a snail’s pace for a story that involved so many tigers. Tigers are not animals we think of when we think of the word slow.
I want to say that Rikki Tikki Tavi is from Just So Stories and not The Jungle Book, but it’s been a while since I’ve read Just So Stories and I’ve never read The Jungle Book, so what do I know?
At first, I thought this was going to be a book set in Asia, which it’s close to actually, but not quite Asia. I do forget that Russia is partially in Europe and there are actually tigers there, like out in the wild prowling around. This book isn’t set in Russia, but it’s not too terribly far away. I just can’t imagine walking out and seeing a tiger in my yard. Bears, sure, but a tiger? Tigers aren’t part of my world, so I don’t possess any folklore about them, but it’s neat that Tea does possess some folkloric heritage involving tigers.
The moral of this story is not to make friends with a tiger because it will surely end badly.
What animal would you be so surprised to see in your yard that you’d just go into this utter state of stupor because you couldn’t comprehend it being there?
Do you like the idea of Death being an actual being? Why or why not?