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. . . Mimicking a Face that Wasn't Human

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

Wow! An amazingly beautiful novel by a young woman who grew up in the former Yugoslavia. The kind of rich fictional experience we're always looking for in novels, but so rarely find.

An excerpt:

The tiger’s wife must have seen the hesitation in his face, because at that moment, her upper lip lifted and her teeth flashed out, and she hissed at him with the ridge of her nose folded up against her eyes. The sound — the only sound he ever heard her make, when she had made no sound over broken bones and bruises that spread like continents over her body — went through him like a rifle report and left him there, left him paralyzed. She was naked, furious, and he knew suddenly that she had learned to make that sound mimicking a face that wasn’t human. He left with the bottle, without turning his back to her, reaching behind him to feel for the door, and when he opened it he couldn’t even feel the cold air coming in. The heat of the house stayed with him like a mark as he walked back. (pages 319-320)

Reader Comments (1)

In 1968, a friend & I hitchhiked across southern Yugoslavia from Zadar (Croatia) to Greece. Welcomed every night into the homes of generous, hospitable families, we nevertheless found the journey strange and often unsettling. Still under Tito's dictatorship, many Yugoslavs had limited or no exposure to the outside world; we were curiosities to them, and they, to us. Some of the villages, particularly those in Kosovo, near Albania, were bleak, backward, deep in poverty, and heavy with an atmosphere of suspicion and superstition. It is this atmosphere that infuses much of The Tiger's Wife, a beautifully written, mysterious, evocative work that reawakened my experiences of more than 40 years ago. The story, which takes place in an imaginary post-war Balkan country with flashbacks to earlier times, centers on a young doctor's relationship with her grandfather and the grandfather's tales, woven with elements of fablelike magical realism. Characters in the story--the bear, the tiger, the tiger's wife, the deathless man--seem to symbolize aspects of the conflicts that have plagued the region for centuries. As I listened to the perfectly narrated audiobook, the slow-paced story grew on me until I was enveloped in its strangeness and the beauty of its language---all, the remarkable production of an author in only her early 20's.

November 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElaine

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