“The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht

As a way to broaden my reading scope, I decided to participate in the Huffington Post’s online book club, where you read books and get involved in online discussions. The first book that was chosen was The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht, which I probably would not have read otherwise. I have to say that it is a fantastic book, rich with imagery. The various themes in the story allow for lots of interpretation, and I could certainly write much more than you’d be willing to read, so I’ll focus on just a couple and try to keep it short.

The first thing that struck me was the relationship between Obreht’s tiger and that of William Blake (see my earlier post on Blake’s “The Tyger”). The tiger is viewed as a godlike creature and is referred to as The Devil by the townsfolk. Also, the tone in which Obreht describes her tiger kept invoking images of Blake’s. Finally, there was the fact that the first person to go and hunt the tiger was the blacksmith, which again tied in to the imagery of forging in Blake’s poem.

For me, the central theme of the book is the way stories and ritual define family history. Emphasis is placed on the sharing of stories and the personal connection between people when a story is passed down. The scene that stands out most vividly for me is where the grandfather sits with the tiger’s wife and shares the story of The Jungle Book with her. Since she is a deaf mute, he uses his finger to draw pictures in the hearth ashes explaining the story. The scene clearly hints at the way primitive humans shared stories, through pictures instead of words. There is also the symbol of the hearth, representing the home and the connection to family. Lastly, there are the ashes, which symbolize the dead and the past. We often look to our past (the ashes of our lives) as inspiration for the stories that we pass down.

When you read a book, there is sometimes a passage that strikes a nerve, only because it resonates with an experience in your life. In this book, there was such a passage for me: “… if your life ends in suddenness you will be glad it did, and if it does not you will wish it had.” (p. 301) I have experienced both first hand. My mother died suddenly, while my father died a slow, drawn out death. Personally, when the mora comes for me, I hope he comes suddenly.

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