Books: The Tiger’s Wife

I found a book club closer to home than the one I had joined last fall (and which I have only attended once, mostly due to schedule conflicts but also because I wasn’t interested in last month’s choice, In One Person by John Irving). This evening I attended my first meeting, where we discussed The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht.

I was surprised to find that I was the only one who had liked the book. I found it puzzling, sometimes very brutal, but for the most part a book full of hauntingly beautiful stories. When I finished I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it – what exactly was the author trying to say? But I never found it boring or too hard to understand.

Reviews that I read helped me make some sense of it. One blog post sums up that book as “the stories we tell ourselves to help us understand death, especially when it is pointless, and especially when it is far away.” I don’t know that stories help us understand death, exactly, but they help us put it into perspective, cope with it, and find value and meaning in life even as death robs us of so much we cherish.

Another blogger points out the contrast between the doctor’s struggle to use logic and science to solve problems (both the narrator and her beloved grandfather are doctors), and the irrational behavior that characterizes much of human life. “Wars are mindless things that terrify people. Superstitious people behave in crazy ways. Doctors try their best to make sense of all this insanity, but it is never easy.”

Some reviews seem to consider Obreht’s debut novel a masterpiece, but others recognize its weaknesses. A review in Salon praises Obreht’s flair for storytelling, but points out that she would have done better to write a series of separate stories rather than trying to tie them together in a single (confusing) narrative.

Fortunately, talking about books is good conversation whether or not you like the book. We talked about families and family stories, about attitudes toward death, and about societal change across generations. I look forward to more good conversations over more books at future meetings – and to getting to know my fellow readers. And I even found out there are more book clubs here in town!

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