“Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation.
In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.
But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.
Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weeklytrips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.”
About the Book: ★★★★★★
Some books — as crazy as it sounds — a reader will fall in love with even before opening the book. This book is one of them. (Ok — I will admit it. I love tigers. I have always been fascinated with them.) And once I started reading the book, I was not disappointed.
The setting was the only part of the book that I found a little frustrating. And it wasn’t in a bad way really. It was just that sometimes I felt like it wasn’t really grounded in a tangible place. I felt like I should have known where it was — but then something would happen and I would find myself confused again about the location. That is not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing in this story. This sense of slight confusion about time and place actually added an extra depth to the story for some reason. It helped the reader to feel some of the confusion of this war torn country, and the discomfort of feeling that the world the characters inhabited was constantly shifting, and nothing was what it really appeared to be. This helped add credibility to the slightly mystical quality of the story line — and in the end it actually worked.
The characters, however, were absolutely captivating. I found myself constantly wanting to know more about each of the characters, and their history. The story is developed in such a way that only pieces of the story are developed at a time, and they alternate between characters throughout the book. So the only thing you become aware of right from the beginning is the present state of the Tiger, the Tiger’s Wife, and the three main characters — the Deathless Man, and a Natalia, and her grandfather. The reader then follows the characters through the back stories that brought the characters to the present point in time throughout the remainder of the book.
The writing and story development are both very effective in this book, and combined with the strong characters and the intriguing setting this book is a wonderful read. Added to these is the mystery of the subtle ways in how these characters lives come together and as a reader I found that this book was one that was hard to put down.
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