Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht - a brilliantly crafted first novel

The Tiger's Wife: A Novel
I must admit that the only reason I picked this book up is because Tea Obreht seemed too young (she is 26) and too attractive (for a writer anyway) when I saw her picture in the NYTimes book review. However, I must also clarify that as soon as a few pages into this brilliant first novel, I couldn't really tell or even really care about the author, her age or looks. The story took over. For the good. "Tiger's Wife" is the story of a young woman, a doctor, and her relationship with her grandfather. It is the tale of growing up, for the grandfather and for the young woman, in a war ravaged, unnamed baltic country which is more than likely some projection of former Yugoslavia, which also happens to be Ms. Obreht's birth place. She has lived in US since she was 12. She was recently featured in the highly popular and excellent New Yorker fiction series of "best 20 authors under the age of 40" amongst other contemporary writers such as Jonathan Safran Foer whose brilliant first novel "Everything is illuminated" clearly seems to be an influence on "The Tiger's Wife."

Tea's Obreht style is a bit different from Foer though. While Foer's fiction is more contemporary, Tea treads the well traveled road of magic realism, popularized by the heavyweights Rushdie and Márquez amongst others. However, her real win is that she keeps it simple. No linguistic mountaineering required. Her fantastical tale, while ambitious in its rather broad scope, is still essentially a simple, if colorful, telling of no more than two or perhaps three mythical vignettes. The rest of the plot, if one can call it that, revolves mostly around those stories. Tea and her even younger team of editors and agents, has done a fairly decent job of keeping the length of the book in control. Tea clearly had a lot to say but her plot transgressions are generally checked rather aggressively, sometimes to the detriment of the literature but largely to excellent critical and individual reviews.

Overall, it is a well-produced, well-crafted, work of fiction that successfully walks the line between modern literature and modern mass-consumable fiction. Ms. Obreht and her amazingly young and inexperienced crew have nevertheless managed to pull off a real winner. If these comments reek a bit of a reproach for this manufactured approach to literature then it is not necessarily misplaced, I think. This first work proves she can produce an excellent product and I will leave any literary judgement for her subsequent works. 

The Tiger's Wife is indeed the kind of work that will invigorate writing in America, specially amongst the young who lately have succumbed to the attraction of reactive blogging and tweeting rather than retrospective and almost painfully slow process of writing a long fictional work.

If nothing else, that alone should be a reason to applaud this book and its author.


I read this novel on Apple's iBook app on the iPhone. While I am generally a Kindle app user, I often read books now and then on the iBook app mostly for its enormous eye candy value and Apple's incredible attention to detail. Yes, I'd like to touch a book and all that but the advantages of an ebook, like the fact that I can actually read and finish one, far outweigh the pleasures of holding a physical book.