book review: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht



THE TIGER’S WIFE by Téa Obreht
Random House, 2011


What an incredibly pleasant surprise.  Not only did this not sound like my type of book (it has been well documented that I don’t get on with magical realism), I was doing a group buddy read – I started the book last, and by the time I picked it up, only one other person in the group ended up liking it.  So despite all the critical acclaim, I thought it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to hate The Tiger’s Wife.  But I actually have to side with the critics on this one!

This book was enchanting, I can’t think of a better word for it.  I was so impressed with Téa Obreht’s writing; if I hadn’t known that she had written this in her early 20s I never would have believed it.  Her ability to craft atmosphere in this meticulously detailed family saga kept me spellbound, even through sections where the narrative slightly stalled.

However, it didn’t completely work for me.  The Tiger’s Wife is a story within a story – the protagonist Natalia is a young doctor on her way to a remote orphanage in the generalized Balkan country in which she lives, when she receives word that her grandfather has died.  She then weaves together her own story with stories about her grandfather’s life, and the result is a case study in why I hate first-person minor so much.  I found the frame narrative incredibly flimsy, to the point where I’d have gladly done away with it altogether and focused entirely on Natalia’s grandfather.  Those chapters were the shining beacon of light in this book, and I can guarantee that a year from now I’m going to remember those vividly while not recalling a single thing about Natalia.

But all said, I thought this was a really enjoyable and worthwhile read that I’m glad to have finally picked up.

If you’re interested in reading the rest of the reviews from my buddy read group:

★★★★☆ | Naty
★★★☆☆ | Emily, Hannah RTC
★★☆☆☆ | Callum

You can pick up a copy of The Tiger’s Wife here on Book Depository.

15 thoughts on “book review: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

  1. I’m so happy that you liked this – I’ve been a bit dismayed by the other reviews, especially as The Tiger’s Wife seemed so popular when it first came out. I love this novel, although I agree that the Natalia thread is weaker than the grandfather thread.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was such a charming book and a real pleasure to read, it had been a while since I’d read anything this immersive and unrelentingly atmospheric. I don’t fully understand all the negative ratings either!

      Incidentally have you read Inland? I wanted to read more of Obreht’s writing so I looked it up but the summary really really does not grab me, especially as I thought the Balkan folklore element was one of the stronger aspects of The Tiger’s Wife and I’d love to see her do more with that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, so I loved the summary of Inland from the off, so maybe if it doesn’t grab you it’s not one to read! It’s a very different book from TTW. I thought it was worth reading, and she does use the supernatural very deftly, but it wasn’t as much of a standout hit for me.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I’m so glad this one was a hit for at least part of the group!

    I think what kept it from feeling more atmospheric and immersive for me was the “generalized Balkan country.” I really wanted more specific place details than “the village” and “the mountain” etc to ground it more for me, I just felt kind of adrift in the larger setting. Though I can’t exactly fault the book for my own lack of Balkan knowledge.
    In any case, I’m glad you had a better time with this one, especially since it’s not your favorite genre! 🙂

    After some consideration I think I’m still interested in reading Inland; maybe I’ll fare a little better with that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!!!

      I totally understand your criticisms. Reading the very early pages I thought the ~genericized Balkan country~ was going to be a bigger issue for me as well given that I LOVE historical fiction and I’d rather read about a clear, concrete conflict most of the time, but I thought that the way Obreht used folklore to bolster the atmosphere was just so expertly done that I found myself not minding so much.

      I think Inland for me is a ‘read only if it’s longlisted for the WP’ book – for some reason the summary just really does not grab me! I really hope she writes more soon, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That makes sense, and I did enjoy the folklore aspect. I’m glad you enjoyed it more than I did, at any rate!

        I keep forgetting that Inland could be nominated for the WP! I don’t know why that’s one I’m overlooking, it would definitely make sense since Obreht’s won previously. Westerns don’t usually appeal to me either but for some reason this one really does. I think it’s the ghost/haunting aspect. Either way, I can definitely agree that she’s talented, and I’d love to see what more she comes out with as well!


    • Totally fair!! For me the structure was just the one downside, but it didn’t ruin the reading experience for me. I definitely understand where that could be the case though.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You have to write your review so my little review section can be complete!

      You were the only person in the group who I thought may dislike this even more than me. Because historical fiction. But I would have guessed that we would be the only two who disliked it, so, I got that completely wrong.


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