The wartorn Balkans is the setting for Tea Obreht’s nuanced exploration of what death and the dead mean to the living. The Tiger’s Wife also shows how stories can sustain us through the most difficult of life’s circumstances.
There are three tales here, the central one being the first person account of Natalia, a young doctor bringing medical aid to an orphanage on the other side of a newly- created border. She interweaves her story with two that have been passed down from her grandfather, also a doctor. One is about a deathless man and the other is about a tiger. Many decades earlier, a tiger escaped from a city zoo and made its way to her grandfather’s remote village, where the people mistook it for a devil wearing fiery pyjamas. When he was a boy, the grandfather had only one book, Kipling’s Jungle Book, but it was enough for him to recognize the tiger as Shere Khan.
The Books on Tape audiobook (11.3 hours) has two narrators: Susan Duerden for the voice of Natalia and Robin Sachs for her grandfather. The pace is measured, as suits the reflective nature of the story. It also allows time to appreciate the vivid images conjured up by Obreht’s prose.
Readalike: Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones. Although set on the other side of the world, this has a somewhat similar feel with young people growing up amid the violence and uncertainty of war, plus it has a classic work of literature in a talismanic role.
The Tiger’s Wife also brought a pair of graphic novels to mind:
Notes for a War Story by Gipi (It's bleaker than The Tiger’s Wife, but setting is similar to what Natalia would have experienced as a teenager during the Balkan war.)
Pride of Baghdad by Brian Vaughan (This one is a heavy-handed allegory based on a true story about lions which escaped from a zoo during bombing in 2003 in Iraq and there’s a battle between a lion and a bear that’s echoed in The Tiger’s Wife - except with a tiger rather than a lion.)