If you can judge a book as much as by what is said as is unsaid, then this is a classic. A friend of mine (thanks Rachel!) recommended this book to me. It is not a hard book to read, but it will leave you thinking long after you have finished it.
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht was published March 8, 2011, and is on The New York Times Bestseller List.
There are many layers to the stories in this book. It is the story of a young woman and her grandfather. It is a story of a land ravaged by war and how people manage through the consequences of changing borders, changing economies, and changing allegiances. It is a story of life and death. It is the story of the real and the unreal. It is the story of a tiger and a town.
An early book cover to Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel, The Jungle Book, published in 1894. (From Wikipedia)
One of the main characters is Natalia’s grandfather. He carried a worn copy of The Jungle Book in his pocket and shared many stories with her throughout her life. She is raised in his home, and they are very close. Knowledge of The Jungle Book fable adds a layer of richness and meaning as you read this book.
While it is never explicitly mentioned, the story takes place in the Balkan region of Eastern Europe. But, it could be the story of any country or region affected by conflicts particularly ones that revolve around religious differences. This region has suffered the ravages of war over the centuries at least in part due to its location between western Europe and central Asia, and religious differences have factored into many of this region’s conflicts. The story alludes to the changing allegiances of the citizens as they traverse the countryside whose borders and economies have changed over time.
It is the religious dimension in this novel that fascinated me the most. Many of the conflicts in this region have been fought over religious differences – the conflict between Christians and Muslims.
The famed doctor who, after a long and distinguished career, loses his University privileges due to his marriage, many decades earlier, to a Muslim woman. The townspeople who, on the face of it, accepted the apothecary. The townspeople who looked suspiciously on the tiger’s wife. Their ability to fully accept them and to be sympathetic to them clouded by their religious and ethnic differences.
The story of Luka’s marriage to the sister of the woman he loved mirrors the story of Leah and Rachel in the Bible. Luka’s dreams are dashed after he is tricked into marrying this woman by her father. This deaf and mute woman whose beauty does not compare to that of her sister. This woman who becomes the tiger’s wife. Their marriage stands in stark juxtaposition to the marriage of Natalia’s grandfather to her grandmother. Two marriages that crossed religious and political boundaries.
Mowgli and Shere Kahn bookplate. (From Wikipedia)
The grandfather has a fascination with the Bengal tiger, Shere Kahn. You understand why when Natalia learns about one of the stories from his childhood. A story that Natalia hears about after his death – the story of The Tiger’s Wife.
It is in this story that all of the other stories collide.
The book for me was more about what was unsaid than what was said. And that is the beauty of a book like this. Every reader can take away what they want and need. And I know that I will find, over time, as I think about the many layers of stories in this one book, I will learn more about myself and the world around me.
I strongly recommend The Tiger’s Wife.