I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in the world of 'The Tiger's Wife' written by Serbian-American Téa Obreht. (Click here for Guardian's review of the book. Also see New York Times' comments. ) A story about Balkan conflict, the narrator Natalia tries to make sense of her grandfather's mysterious death, and in her quest, learnt about his early life, ideals and dreams.
"Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories: the story of the tiger's wife, and the story of the deathless man. These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life-of my grandfather's days in the army; his great love for my grandmother; the years he spent as a surgeon and a tyrant of the University."
Set in an unamed Balkan country in the fictitious village of Galina, folklore, village tales and superstition form the story that sounds almost light-hearted bellies the author's view of the pain that has torn through her childhood home country. Fables and allegory run amok in the book. Of course the escaped tiger is symbolic. It's as real as any in the book. Overtones of the Kosovo War loom large in the shadows of the incidents and tales described.
The author places all the stories in the foreground till I was almost distracted. What mattered to me was the overarching narrative in the background. It's not so much of the relationship between Natalia and her grandfather that the author is telling, but more of the stories that she isn't directly saying.
"His trips to the zoo had become a thing of the past long before the bombing forced the City to close its gates. There was a lot of speculation about this closure-people, not just my grandfather, were furious, felt it was a sign of giving up, accused the City of using the bombing as an excuse to slaughter the animals to save on resources. Indignant, the authorities set up a weekly newspaper column that ran current pictures of the animals and reported on their well-being, on the birth of their cubs, on plans for zoo renovation when the raids were over."