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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

TheTiger's Wife: A very ambitious work, but can Obreht reolve all these plot strands?

Nearing the conclusion of Tea Obreht's novel, "The Tiger's Wife," and there's a lot she has to pull together in the final 50 pages or so - she has several fabulist stories going, and the threads connecting them to the main, real-time plot, are thin, but we'll see if she can reel it in - the tiger that escaped from the zoo in a 1941 air raid and settles near a village, the deaf-mute abused butcher's wife who befriends the tiger and is konwn thereafter as the Tiger's Wife, the man who would not die, the butcher who becomes a wife abuser because of his childhood of mistreatment - all of these stories narrated to the narrator by her grandfather, like her a doctor, who dies at the outset of the novel in a remote village - and the surface plot is the narrator's attempt to find out why he died in such a remote place - why was he there? - and also the narrator - Natalia's - attempt to bring medicine and vaccines to children in an orphanage. The orphanage and the village where grandfather died are in the "enemy" country just after the resolution of the civil war - probably they are Bosnian's in Serbia? Croatia? Obreht intentionally leaves the geography opaque. In section just finished, Natalia returns to the orphanage after side trip to clinic where grandfather died, carrying bag of his last belongings, which in keeping with tradition she will not open till after the 40-day mourning period; in the village she learns that the "differs," a group of men from another country altogether who have been digging up a vineyard in search of the body of a man from their village who needs a proper burial in order to end an epidemic claiming lives in the village - a lot of plot mechanisms under way here - have discovered the body - preserved in a suitcase - and now must follow a ritual of cleaning the bones and leaving the heart behind. Natalia agrees to carry the heart (a fake one, by the way) to a crossroads and stay with in through the night. Why? Anyway, toward dawn a figure arrives at the crossroads and examines the heart. Well - I'm as puzzled as you are. Some (M) have said that they've loved this novel but couldn't understand all of it. Others have said that a lot comes clear in the last chapter. I do love many things about it, but have to say I wonder where it's going and how Obreht will get us there. Very ambitious work, but has she over-reached?

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