When The New Yorker ran an excerpt of The Tiger's Wife in its 2009 Fiction issue, it was clear an astonishing new talent had arrived in the world of contemporary fiction.
The time: the present. The place: a Balkan country ravaged by years of conflict.
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- Publisher: Books on Tape
- Date: Mar 2011
From the book
Obreht: THE TIGER'S WIFE
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.
If it is properly enticed, the soul will return as the days go by, to rummage through drawers, peer inside cupboards, seek the tactile comfort of its living identity by reassessing the dish rack and the doorbell and the telephone, reminding itself of functionality, all the time touching things that produce sound and make its presence known to the inhabitants of the house.
Speaking quietly into the phone, my grandma reminded me of this after she told me of my grandfather's death. For her, the forty days were fact and common sense, knowledge left over from burying two parents and an older sister, assorted cousins and strangers from her hometown, a formula she had recited to comfort my grandfather whenever he lost a patient in whom he was particularly invested--a superstition, according to him, but something in which he had indulged her with less and less protest as old age had hardened her beliefs.
My grandma was shocked, angry because we had been robbed of my grandfather's forty days, reduced now to thirty-seven or thirty-eight by the circumstances of his death. He had died alone, on a trip away from home; she hadn't known that he was already dead when she ironed his clothes the day before, or washed the dishes that morning, and she couldn't account for the spiritual consequences of her ignorance. He had died in a clinic in an obscure town called Zdrevkov on the other side of the border; no one my grandma had spoken to knew where Zdrevkov was, and when she asked me, I told her the truth: I had no idea what he had been doing there.
"You're lying," she said.
"Bako, I'm not."
"He told us he was on his way to meet you."
"That can't be right," I said.
He had lied to her, I realized, and lied to me. He had taken advantage of my own cross-country trip to slip away--a week ago, she was saying, by bus, right after I had set out myself--and had gone off for some reason unknown to either of us. It had taken the Zdrevkov clinic staff three whole days to track my grandma down after he died, to tell her and my mother that he was dead, arrange to send his body. It had arrived at the City morgue that morning, but by then, I was already four hundred miles from home, standing in the public bathroom at the last service station before the border, the pay phone against my ear, my pant legs rolled up, sandals in hand, bare feet slipping on the green tiles under the broken sink.
"Of the books I read this year by people I've never laid eyes on, the most peculiar and brilliant may have been The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht. Constructed from anecdote and fable, it is sometimes written in a kind of medical poetry, its main characters being doctors whose attention to the permeable line between life and death suits the tales of old and new Yugoslavia that Obreht wishes to tell." - Lorrie Moore, New Yorker online
"Stunning...Obreht writes with an angel's pen on this tiger's tale within the novel, and on myriad other matters, from birth, death and immortality, creating a skein of descriptive passages flush with brilliant detail and ringing with lyrical diction."--NPR.org, Alan Cheuse's Top 5 Fiction Picks of 2011
"Attention all book groups: The Tiger's Wife is an ideal book for discussion, and not only because of the handy reader's guide included, or because of the nifty conversation between Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan and Tea Obreht...A beguiling blend of realism, myth and legend, this novel possesses a presence and force, essential ingredients for a novel that is very much rooted in reality yet transcends time." --Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune Editor's Choice
"Sentence by sentence, no fictional debut in 2011 was more arresting than this novel." - Cleveland Plain Dealer Holiday Books Round-up
"[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 G - Kate Christensen, reviewing for Elle