‘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.
I read this as March’s BOOKPLATE book club choice, and I think it’s the favourite of the books that we’ve read so far. I loved that almost everyone in the novel had a backstory, I loved that there were so many strands of narrative and that they all crossed over each other. I was (sadly!) the only one of this opinion in the group, which I was really surprised at. I thought the novel was well-written and engaging, and considering that the author is more or less my age and this is her first novel, I was really impressed.
My copy has a list of further recommended reading at the back, and a couple of my favourites are on there too: One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Ghostwritten, so maybe The Tiger’s Wife is just more of my sort of thing!!
I found the inclusion of so many folk tales and superstitions really interesting, and I’d liked to have known more about the Deathless Man and his uncle. I also liked that time was so fluid in the novel, making Natalia’s grandfather come alive, though he isn’t in the ‘present’ of the novel. The ‘disjointed’ effect of telling the many different fables and backstories almost at once is what kept me interested.
In fact, the only negative point I can think of is that it was the relationships between the living (or ‘present’) characters which I found lacking; Natalia and Zora’s lifelong friendship was barely explored, Natalia’s relationships with her mother and grandmother were barely mentioned. I think that maybe the inclusion of these relationships could have detracted from the main story of the tigers wife, but it would have been nice to have understood Natalia, the narrator, a little better.