Monday, 4 April 2011

Book of the Week - Tea Obreht, The Tiger's Wife

Téa Obreht’s first novel, The Tiger’s Wife, has made a significant impact, with reviewers using words like brilliant and spectacular to describe it. Obreht was born in 1985 in the former Yugoslavia, and spent her childhood in Cyprus and Egypt before eventually immigrating to the United States in 1997. She has been named by The New Yorker as one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty and included in the National Book Foundation’s list of 5 Under 35. She currently lives in Ithaca, New York. Unusually for a writer based in the US, the UK edition published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson is the true first. This has been very rapidly reprinted, and all of the hardcovers I have seen in bookshops have been second printings. Given that there is also a UK paperback release, I strongly suspect that the first print run of the hardcover was modest. I expect this book to feature on prizelists this year (it has already been longlisted for the Orange prize), and if you can find a hardcover first at close to cover price I suggest picking it up now.

'Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs...' A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic - Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book. Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather's death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery. From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realises he may have died searching for 'the deathless man', a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger's wife.”

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