Friday, August 28, 2015

The Tiger's Wife

The big "thing" with this book, if you read know anything about it at all, is that it's a blend of the realistic and the mythic.  A major theme is how people turn real events into stories to comfort themselves or help them make sense of their lives.  But exactly how this works with the events and stories presented in the book, I'm not always sure.  The diggers in the vineyard, those were obvious.  And the way the deathless man's role seemed to mirror what a doctor's role is, knowing who will live and who will die.  The tiger seemed like a symbol for outside influences pulling on a very insular village, dangerous and to be distrusted.  I could make those connections.  But the tiger's wife herself, and Luka, and the apothecary, and their back stories, those remain opaque to me. 

How almost any of this relates to Natalia and her grandfather, I don't know.  Aside from it all supposing to be very Balkan.  Despite Natalia saying that the key to understanding her grandfather lies between the stories of the tiger's wife and the deathless man, I struggled to pull together any grand connections between the stories and his life.

Then there's war.  The entire book is painted on a backdrop involving various and numerous wars.  Sometimes you get lost and can't remember which war caused what to happen.  The author plays it as another facet of the Balkan cultural attitude, which may not be fair, I think.  Certainly it's what led me to see the tiger and his wife as the "outside" and the "different" sparking conflict.  

I do get the impression the author was trying to use animals to make us see plainly what humans hide, particularly the costs of stress from war.

I thought I would like this book more than I did.  Which is not to say I didn't like it; I predicted that this would be an easy five stars for me, and it's a solid four instead.  I'm not sure I completely got what the author was throwing out there, but I was able to interpret (i.e. make stuff up!) enough on my own to feel satisfied.  

Final call:

I say read it, and don't stress out about trying to figure everything out on the first go.  This is an impressionist painting done in words - individual parts may make no sense, but the overall effect is clear enough.

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