by Téa Obreht
This book was a mix for me. It\’s several stories woven together, told in patches, that interconnect in surprising ways. Set in some Balkan country recovering from a long period of war. The narrator works in the medical field, is travelling to an orphanage to administer vaccinations to children. At the same time trying to unravel the mystery of her grandfather\’s death, while he was away from home. And that of some superstitious people who are trying to find a relative buried long ago in someone\’s vineyard near where she\’s staying. There\’s stories from the grandfather\’s childhood, and then of people he knew, or people who knew of him, in villages around the area. Their suspicious beliefs and rumors that become larger than life. Most interesting to me was the subtle story of the tiger- he escaped from captivity during a bombing and wandered, striking fear into the villagers where he appeared, finally having a connection to a deaf-mute girl who was brutally beaten by her husband (he\’d been tricked into marrying her). In fact, there\’s a lot of brutality in this book, kind of akin to The Painted Bird in my mind (a book I long wanted to forget). There\’s also beautiful language. I happened to really like the way this author puts words together, very skilled and wonderfully descriptive in a precise way. However there\’s just too much going on, and I didn\’t always see the connections. I found the man who would not die tiresome in the end (and he was one of the central characters!) The final sentences about the tiger himself saddened me. I really would have liked to see more from the tiger\’s viewpoint, but there was far more about the people and their various backstories and how they came to be who they were- all interesting, but too many of them for me to care much about. In all, this book reminds me of One Hundred Years of Solitude, though it\’s far more accessible to the reader, still not as engaging as I would like. There\’s constant references to Kipling\’s The Jungle Book in here, and not just to the well-known story of Mowgli and the wolves but also the minor stories that I remember so well. Narrator\’s grandfather treasured that book since he was a child, used it as a reference to recognize the tiger when he first saw it roaming (the villages thought it was the devil). It was one of the more vivid parts of the story to me. Mostly this seems to be about war, the disarray of people\’s lives in the aftermath, confronting death and grief and loss. About family and stories that get handed around and how they change or change the people who hear them. This is all quite a jumble- but then, that\’s how I felt about the book.