The youngest and brightest of them all, Tea Obreht is garnering more-than-lavish attention for her debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife. The novelist herself– a mere TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OLD– is what most of the buzz is about, because she’s the youngest in the New Yorker’s Top Twenty Under Forty list, because she’s only published in the hugest of magazines and studied at the very best schools, because she’s a magical realist, and nobody’s a magical realist anymore.
If anything, that is what struck me as so sensual and unexpected about The Tiger’s Wife. Obreht writes in the slowest, most deliberate fashion, piling gorgeous descriptions one after another after another, and layering generational stories with fairytales. The through-line of the story is in fact a re-telling of the Grimm’s “Godfather Death,” one of the oldest tales in modern fiction.
So, is Obreht famous because she is a young person who writes like an old person? Her protagonist is a Serbian doctor whose most treasured memory is of an elephant marching through her war-thrashed city. There is a deaf-mute who is beaten by her husband the butcher. There is a plagued family of gypsies who digs up a body in a suitcase. And there is a grandfather, whose fascination with tigers stems from his life in the old village. This is old timey stuff, but somehow, Obreht keeps it feeling young. All the critics expect great things, but I’m not as eager for Obreht to smooth her style. I liked this book, and I’ll recommend it, mostly because in The Tiger’s Wife, I still saw evidence of Tea Obreht’s young, sometimes uncontrolled ways.