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927 of 982 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel of power and wisdom and beauty, February 4, 2011
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This review is from: The Tiger's Wife: A Novel (Hardcover)
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By the time she is thirteen, Natalia has taken so many trips with her grandfather to visit the caged tigers that she feels like a prisoner of ritual. Then a war hundreds of miles distant breaks the ritual: the zoo closes, curfews are implemented, students are disappearing, and spending time with her grandfather seems less important than committing small acts of defiance: staying out late, kissing a boyfriend behind a broken vending machine, and listening to black market recordings of Paul Simon and Johnny Cash. When her grandfather is suspended from his medical practice because he is suspected of harboring "loyalist feelings toward the unified state," Natalia adopts new rituals that keep her at his side when he isn't paying clandestine visits to his old patients. In return, he takes her to see an astonishing sight that offers the hope for an eventual restoration of the rituals that made up their pre-war lives. Natalia's grandfather tells her that this is their moment: not a moment of war to be shared by everyone else, but a moment that is uniquely theirs.

The Tiger's Wife is filled with wondrous moments, small scenes that assemble into a novel of power and wisdom and beauty. As an adult doctor delivering medicine across new and uncertain borders, Natalia grieves for her deceased grandfather while recalling the lessons he taught and the stories he told -- stories that more often than not center on death: how it is faced, feared, and embraced. Death is everywhere in this novel: death caused by war, by disease, by animal and man and child. And there is death's counterpoint, a character who cannot die (or so the grandfather's story goes). Death is virtually a character in the novel, as is the devil -- although the devil's identity is somewhat obscure, appearing as someone's uncle in one of the grandfather's stories, suspected of wearing the guise of a tiger by others. The tiger, of course, is a force of death -- feared by many, but not by the tiger's wife, who shows us that fear is unnecessary. Ultimately, coming to terms with death is, I think, the novel's subject matter.

Téa Obreht writes with clarity and compassion. She tells the interwoven stories that comprise The Tiger's Wife without judgment or sentiment. Her characters are authentic; with only one or two exceptions, she doesn't go out of her way to make them likable or sympathetic. Nor does she ask readers to hate characters who commit evil acts, although she wants us to understand them. She does not insist that we either condemn or condone the actions of a wife-abusing butcher. Instead, she gives us a chance to comprehend human complexity, to know that there is more to the characters than their offensive or violent actions. The village gossips, knowing nothing of the truth, judge both the abuser and the abused. Obreht shows us how foolish it is to judge others without knowing them ... and how unlikely it is that we will know enough to judge.

Obreht writes with the maturity and confidence of an accomplished novelist. Her style is graceful. It is difficult to believe that this is her first novel. If she continues to produce work as sound as The Tiger's Wife, readers should wish her a long career.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 30, 2011 10:32:00 AM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 30, 2011 9:05:15 PM PDT
TChris says:
Thank you for your kind remarks about my review. I hope you enjoy the novel as much as I did.

Regarding the word "comprise," I understand your point. I believe the view that "comprise" means "embrace" is taken by Strunk and White, a reference that is sometimes a bit stuffy for my taste. According to dictionary.com, the first two definitions of "comprise" are "to include or contain" and "to consist of; be composed of" while the third definition is "to form or constitute." I rely upon the third definition in writing about the "stories that comprise The Tiger's Wife" -- those stories form or constitute the novel. According to the dictionary.com usage note, the first and second definitions operate in the phrase "The United States of America comprises fifty states" while the third definition operates in the phrase "Fifty states comprise the United States of America." Since one would not say "Fifty states embrace the United States of America" I do not believe the accepted usage of "comprise" is quite as limited as Strunk and White suggest. The same usage note traces the third definition to the 18th century. That is a sufficient pedigree to satisfy me, even if Strunk and White would prefer the English language to remain static. Granted, this use of "comprise" is a bit controversial, but Wikipedia's "list of English words with disputed usage" states that only 35 percent of the American Heritage Dictionary usage panel objected to it. I'm siding with the 65 percent who believe that language evolves and that this is one example of its evolution.

Sorry to be so long-winded, but I wanted to explain why I have elected not to edit my review. I nonetheless thank you for reading my review so carefully.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 12:23:04 PM PDT
Tomassina says:
Your use of "comprise" is perfectly correct,of course!
I admire your courteous reply...........

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 12:25:08 PM PDT
Tomassina says:
TChris' use of " comprise " is perfectly correct.
You,however, have spelled "synonymous" incorrectly !

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2011 3:04:55 PM PDT
H. Newman says:
Good for you! You were very kind to your "judge" in your response. I'm afraid I would have asked him (politely) to buzz off!

Posted on Jul 7, 2011 3:07:39 PM PDT
H. Newman says:
Your review was wonderful! I can hardly wait to purchase this book and read it!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 10, 2011 4:36:38 PM PDT
TChris says:
Thank you, gentle review readers Tomassina and H. Newman, for your kind words.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 4, 2012 11:01:13 AM PST
Tomassina, I think the misspelled synonymous was just a typo. I agree that comprised was used correctly, but just how far into the weeds are we going to get?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 4, 2012 6:10:25 PM PST
Tomassina says:
SORRY! Being too picky ,perhaps.

Posted on Aug 15, 2012 7:10:17 AM PDT
Thank you for the review. I am currently listening to a recording of this book. Your review has given me a new perspective.
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TChris
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