Téa Obreht is better than me. She just is.
This book managed to be a page-turner without being overly suspenseful. It beautifully outlines our human tendencies to seek answers through story and mythology in the face of unexplainable loss. Natalia has just lost her grandfather. He died in an unknown place, away from his family, after lying about where he was going and why he was going there. He died how he lived – searching. And while the ending leaves some room for interpretation, I like to think that he found what he was looking for – that he was at peace when he died.
I got this book after seeing Téa at Nerdcon: Stories 2015 in Minneapolis last year. She was on a panel about continuing writing after you’ve already been successful. Honestly, I had never heard of her or her book before then. Every other author on the panel was poking fun at her for the fact that she’s had so much success at such a young age (she was only 26 when it came out). Upon release, The Tiger’s Wife became a New York Times Bestseller, and was later named one of the Top 10 Best Books of 2011 by the New York Times Book Review.
To be honest, this is not a book I would normally go for. But, when I saw her speak in the various panels at Nerdcon, I couldn’t help but thinking to myself – “This girl is cool.” I wanted to be like her. I went out and bought her book because I wanted to see what her writing voice was like after hearing her speak so well.
Admittedly, the book took me a while to get into – I was on my way to North Carolina when I started. Reading on planes is already not my strong suit (flying just makes my neck hurt and my ears explode, so I’m not a fan). Plus, as you know, I had just finished reading A Little Life which is the most depressing book on the planet. While The Tiger’s Wife isn’t exactly a happy tale by any means, Obreht managed to capture a more delicate beauty in loss better (I thought) than Yanagihara’s relentless, self-deprecating characterizations. A death in the family is hard to swallow, but Obreht expressed the search for peace in loss with such authenticity, and most importantly with the notion that life goes on after mourning.
I had never experienced death first-hand until I lost my grandmother in the summer after my freshman year of college. I watched my mother lose a parent – it was all so strange. I remember that it was Father’s Day. My sister was in Japan. My mom was on the road to Minneapolis to see her mother before she died. She had only been driving for two hours when she got the call that she had passed. I took my dad out to dinner for Thai food in an attempt to salvage a dud Father’s Day. The waiter told us to have a great night after our meal. Neither of us are exceptionally chatty people, especially in uncomfortable situations, so when I think of my grandmother’s death, I mostly remember an overwhelming sense of quiet.
It’s funny how when people die, we say that we “lost” them, as though they have been misplaced – that we’ll find them under a rug or in a drawer somewhere when we aren’t looking for them anymore. I think that’s the particular beauty of The Tiger’s Wife – that Natalia finds her grandfather in the stories he told and didn’t tell. These are stories that eventually, she won’t think about every single day, but when her mind stumbles upon them again, she’ll find her grandfather.
Even in a country experiencing the bitter aftermath of war, this book captured exactly that quiet mourning that I associate with loss. I can’t say the word “beautiful” enough. Everyone should experience this book.
My overall rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Up Next: Fool For Love by Sam Shepherd