The Tiger's WifeThe Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

two-thirds ripper, one third meh.

the story has three parts: one, a contemporary story which is the framework, of a young doctor whose grandfather has died; two, parts of the grandfather’s tale, in particular his meetings with the Deathless Man; and three, the story of the tiger’s wife. the latter two are ripper. the first one is meh.

the Deathless Man is absolutely thrilling, and i can see why the Establishment reviewers just about wet themselves over this book for those parts alone. the scene of Grandfather having dinner with the Deathless Man in a city about to be bombed to ruins was unimpeachable. the Deathless Man himself is literary genius.

the story of the tiger’s wife, which is really at least half about her abusive husband, also contains some gems. less appealing are the author’s attempts to illuminate how abusive-husband’s past explains his abusiveness–um, no. sorry, but there’s no exoneration for a guy who busts his wife’s ribs and breaks her jaw. if i were the wife, i would have fed him to the tiger long before.

perhaps she’s meant to be a symbol, in which case, um, no. you can’t make a character wholly symbolic if she’s going to occupy so many pages of the work. that much ink has to be devoted to a real person.

the contemporary third of the tale, well, it lacks a thrust–there’s no spine to that part of the story. doctor comes to town to vaccinate kids, finds some strange people digging up a field, then hares off to claim her grandfather’s things. the first i can understand as mechanics, and the third as segue into memories of grandfather. but the people digging in the field, their purpose remains a mystery to me.

so… two of the stars for the Deathless Man, one for the tiger’s wife (not her husband).

this is the author’s first published novel, and it is a hell of a start from the gate. i will read her next, for sure. but i will read it with some reserve, and in hope that the work is more even.

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