I had a bit of trouble getting into this novel. I liked her writing style, but not necessarily the "plot". I use the quotes because it is no means a straight forward plot as the blurb might lead you to think. Natalia is on a medical run to an orphange when she learns that her grandfather died, supposedly on his way to meet her. Interspersed between the present day accounts of the aid trip and recovering her grandfather's belongings, she tells the readers various stories. Growing up during the civil war. A tiger escaping the City Zoo during World War II, who made its way to the village Natalia's grandfather grew up in and met the woman who would be known as the Tiger's Wife. Her grandfather's repeated encounters with the deathless man.
I didn't find these stories terribly interesting at first (probably due to my lack of interest in contemporary set novels), but then a quote on the back of the book caught my eye. This quote from the Washington Post reviewer mentioned magical realism in the novel, and that gave me a bit of an 'A-ha!' moment. Once as I started to think of it more like a magical realism novel, I enjoyed the story a little bit better. Don't expect to find the kind of magical realism in this like in an Alice Hoffman novel, or in a Sarah Addison Allen novel. Only really one of the story lines can really be said to have magical elements to it. But its not a strong enough magical element to balance out my feelings towards contemporary set novels.
Being a contemporary novel aside, one thing that didn't work for me was all of the stories feel disjointed. The Red Garden is made up of a collection of stories centered around the garden. The stories in The Tiger's Wife either happened to or had a minor involvement of Natalia's grandfather. It was rather like when my grandmother starts telling stories from her youth- they could include her, ones she saw or ones she was told, but they bounce around at will, drop off at any time, and she picks them back up later. The stories might be interesting, but they kind of lose me being broken up so much.
I would definitely try more from Obreht, especially if she ventures into the historic period.
This was the July 2012 pick in my neighborhood book club. It's not my cuppa.
The story opens with the death of Natalia's grandfather, with whom she had a complex relationship. Her interactions with her grandmother in the earliest scenes are emotion-rich and feel heavy with backstory, as there are apparently many things Natalia knows about her grandpa that his wife doesn't....but the book doesn't go down that path.
While journeying with a friend to deliver medicine in war-torn Serbia, Natalia begins taking the reader through the stories that shaped her grandfather's life, which he had shared with her. His experience as a younger doctor with a deathless man, and also the story of the tiger's wife. For pages and pages, we follow a tiger roaming the streets....if there is allegorical substance here, it is completely lost on me.
There was nothing here that held my interest and I had to give up after 100 or so pages. Perhaps if this were the only book I owned, I'd make myself read more, but considering there are over 200 books waiting TBR in my pile, life is just too short to be bored to sleep.
If you like engaging writing, slow pace notwithstanding, just skip this one.