Book Review: The Tigers Wife by Tea Obreht

The blurb:

“‘Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs…’ A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic – Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book. Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery. From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realises he may have died searching for ‘the deathless man’, a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.”


  What I thought:

I wanted to like this book; I wanted to love it. I picked it up having seen mixed reviews but also being certain that it had all the ingredients for a book that I would not only enjoy but also leave a lasting impression on me. The opening chapter was wonderful and I settled down with my book looking forward to what was to come. I am disappointed then to report that I ended up abandoning this book about 3/4 of the way in as I found it becoming more and more of a struggle to keep picking it up and as a result it was taking me an age to read.

The first chapter tells of a young girl, Natalia, and her grangfather at one of their weekly visits to the zoo to see the tigers in an unamed Balkan country. I found this chapter enchanting and the relationship between the pair hinted at a strong bond and of secrets shared. However, the story then flipped twenty years forward when Natalia is a young doctor and finds out that her beloved grandfather has passed away, apparantly on his way to see her. I never felt engaged with Natalia – I didn’t warm to her or her story; she never felt three-dimensional to me.

Woven into the main body of the story are tales that her grandfather has told her during his life. One is about a Deathless Man (who is able to predict the deaths of others but can’t die himself) and the other is of the Tiger’s Wife. One of the reasons that I thought I would love this book is that there was a tiger in it: after reading Life of Pi I became obsessed with anything tigerish. The chapter where the tiger escapes from a bombed out zoo and makes his way north to the countryside and lives on a hill above a tiny village (where the grandfather grew up) is my favourite in the whole book. It is beautifully written and had me rivetted to find out what happened to it after that. Unfortunately with all the tooing and froing with present day and Natalia’s uninteresting story, I grew impatient and bored. I started to find the whole book too slow and the more I put off reading it the more I didn’t want to go back to it.

  Have you read it? What did you think?

If anyone has any compelling reasons why I should pick this up again and read to the end, please do tell me – I’m open to all opinions and I don’t want to miss out if getting to the end is really worth it.

(source: I received this book for review from Amazon Vine)


31 thoughts on “Book Review: The Tigers Wife by Tea Obreht

  1. Haven’t read it but I’ve been following its rounds around the blogsphere. You’re right, very mixed reviews, not many of them in the middle ground. That always makes me curious.


  2. There have been lots of mixed reviews and DNFs of this book, so you’re not the only one. But then it’s also been shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Interesting. I’ll have to pick it up one day and see what the fuss is all about. But I like the way your wrote honestly about it:)


  3. I finished it but cannot bring myself to write a full review – simply because I still haven’t worked out what the point of it was. Shame because without a doubt Obrecht is a talented writer. I hope she manages to master narrative pull in her second novel.


  4. I loved the blurb, my favourite part was the tiger escaping from the zoo, t I agree with you Boof, i got bored and i didn’t care for the characters..I did finish it, but it was a struggle and did involve a bit of skimming 😉


  5. I have a copy of this so I will have to try it at some point. I’ve found the reviews of it very interesting since so many people have said they couldn’t finish it, but really liked the beginning… I always hate when that happens, but at least you know you are not alone!


  6. I haven’t read this book and I think I may not: I am not attracted to the cover! Now, if I’d read a really positive review of this book… maybe. But so far I have seen no reason to read it.

    Still, a pity you didn’t like it. I don’t know that you should continue. Pick up a better book!


  7. Loved this review, enjoy it when people decide that a book is not for them. Takes me far too long to give up on a book and there are so many wonderful ones out there!


  8. I’ve read all the hype about this one and I get bored just reading the synopsis :/ I keep telling myself I should give it a whirl just in case I’m missing something unforgettable…but I’ve got tons of stuff on my TBR that I actually WANT to read. I think I’ll skip this one. Thanks SO much for the honest review.


    • That’s how I felt when I was bored picking it up again, Patti. I have way too many books that I am really looking forward to reading to waste any more time on something that was becoming a struggle.


  9. Thank God I’m not the only one! I was looking so forward to this book, I’m not even sure why. I abandoned it about 1/2 way through and have been feeling guilty, like i should pick it back up. No more, I concede it a DNF and will do my review soon


  10. hmm… i’ve seen a few reviews on this one and am so torn on whether or not to read it. which means i probably won’t. there are just too many books that i’m dying to read to spend (or possibly waste) time reading something that might flop.

    thanks for the honest review, though. sorry that it didn’t work out for you.


  11. I think you’ve confirmed my fears, here. I may just not be in the mood for such a book, but I’ve been interested though mostly because she’s a very young author who’s done extremely well for herself. But the story and the writing just isn’t grabbing me enough to buy it.

    It’s my boss’s absolute favourite book. She delayed finishing it. It’s her staff pick, and our book club choice for next month. I hope I feel differently by then, but I suspect that shorter, less dense books will still be my preferred reading for now.


  12. I’m so glad I’m not alone on opinion of The Tiger’s Wife. I delivered quite a negative review of this one… it just never got going. I know it’s literary fiction and that can meander, but it always felt as if Obreht wanted to tell three stories and never decided which was the most important.

    I wanted to know more about the deathless man, for instance. Yet, I felt robbed by the end of it.


  13. can anyone tell me what this story was really about?? Don’t say the word “allegory”; that does nothing for me.. Everyone loves or hates the book, but no where is there anything that describes the “real” story!!! JUST TELL ME WHAT THE BOOK IS REALLY ABOUT!!!


    • You’re probably asking (or shouting at!) the wrong person here, I’m afraid as I didn’t finish it (partly because I couldn’t figure that out for myself). Why don’t you try reading it for yourself and that way you would find out?


  14. I felt exactly the same. Having read so much about this novel I was expecting something great, affecting and all absorbing. Instead, once chapter 1 was done, I was left struggling and feeling as if every chapter remaining was a chore. I couldnt engage with the narrator nor the protagonists and as such didn’t really care
    About the stories she had to tell. I found myself skipping more and more Pages And now have given up entirely on it. It’s rare I don’t finish a book however much I dislike it – however- with this one it’s too exhausting to contemplate the idea that I still have a lot to get through! Your review merely validated my thoughts!


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