This is a book I’d been meaning to pick up for ages and somehow hadn’t, so when someone asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I asked for a copy. Naturally, I never read all my Christmas books in December (this isn’t even the last one) so I’m just getting to it now. It’s another book I wasn’t sure what to expect from but I’m glad I read it.
The story follows a woman, a young doctor, who has recently learned that her grandfather has died. He’s a man she was close to as a girl, who used to take her to the city zoo to see the tiger, and who would tell her stories about his life. It’s not clear where the story is set, I don’t think the country is ever mentioned, but it’s somewhere in the Balkans and after the Second World War.
Two major stories from her grandfather’s life are shared: That of the tiger’s wife and that of the deathless man. The tiger’s wife is a deaf mute woman who he knew growing up in a remote village before he left to become a doctor. The deathless man is a strange man he met several times during his life, who claimed to be unable to die but able to accurately predict the time and nature of the deaths of others.
Although the women, Natalia, is telling the story, it’s really more about her grandfather and in turn, about her country and its cultures and history. Myth and fact are blended carefully, with the more outlandish parts of the story told more through her grandfather. It’s a slightly sad but very satisfying story and is intensely compelling. It made me want to read more of Tea Obreht’s writing.