Review: The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht

the tigers wife tea obreht

Rating: ★★★★☆

Categories: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism


Natalia’s grandfather has died suddenly in a faraway city, away from his family and keeping secret from his wife the true extent of his illness. Natalia hears the news and knows where he was going: to meet the deathless man. The war is over, the country has been divided and she must find his things so that the family can mourn him appropriately – and in this journey, she remembers the story of how her grandfather met the deathless man, and the tiger’s wife.

The review below has spoilers – if you want to go into the book knowing not too much about it, please consider skipping this review.

I read The Tiger’s Wife together with a few more bloggers, and as of now Callum has a review up, and his experience with the book was quite different from mine, so I think reading it should give a realistic impression of the book! Emily, Hannah and Rachel are also reading it and will also have reviews up, and I highly recommend you check them out.

The Tiger’s Wife is a beautiful, poignant story about Natalia’s grandfather and his experience with the times before the war and before their country was divided, and what happened after. The story is infused with bits of magic, especially with the character of the deathless man, bringing this story to a new level of mystery and perhaps fate, too. I expected the story to be about family, war and heritage, but the main character Natalia serves only the purpose of furthering the plot and tying the knots after the death of her grandfather. She has no actual role to play except to tell his story, so it’s a bit of disappointment to me in that sense.

It is also interesting to observe that the tiger’s wife, who gives the book its title, never actually gets to tell her story, rendering her voiceless. The fact that she is deaf-mute also works as a metaphor in this case, I think. So the fact that we have two main characters who are women, one telling the story of others (mainly her grandfather’s) and having no actual role, and one who has a main role but never gets to tell her story, is both exasperating and somehow fitting.

There are several stories within the story in this book, making it both a difficult and enchanting read. If you’re more into linear plots, I think this will be exhausting to read. When a character is introduced, we get way more background story to them than I actually cared for. I also did not love that the abusive husband gets a chapter of “let me explain why he’s abusive” – I don’t mind his backstory and I did feel sorry for the things he went through, but I did not appreciate the almost forgiving tone of that part of the story.

Ultimately, I think this is a story about loss, death, history and misogyny. How the tiger’s wife paid the price for the hatred of a village who refused to sympathize or help her. At the same time, I think she shone as a character: a strange little girl shoved into a story she did not want to be a part of, turned half wild from pain and fear, and finding in another wild creature a sort of understanding – like she, too, was meant to be free as a tiger, and the world insisted on making her powerless instead.

I loved the magical aspects of this novel and this is where it’s at its best in my opinion. But it’s not an easy one to recommend, because of the constant interludes and how pointless the main character we’re first introduced to turns out to be, it’s an exercise of patience. If you don’t feel enchanted with the atmospheric writing, the dark undertones of magic and the story of the deathless man, I think you will not enjoy this. It took me almost a third of the book to really start getting lost in the story, but I did like it very much in the end.

I realize this review sounds rather negative, and I think the book has many flaws, but I was enchanted with the story in the end and hungry to know the fate of the tiger’s wife and the deathless man. It’s a lovely book to read covered in blankets, with tea and spare time.

12 thoughts on “Review: The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht

  1. I am so glad you ended up enjoying it! I am still struggling but I am only around a third of the way through, so maybe it’ll still improve for me. You make really interesting points about who gets to tell whose stories – I will have to look for that during the rest of the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Hannah! I hope it does improve for you, and I look forward to seeing what you think of it. I think it’s a good book to create conversation, but not so much for recommending to people or to read for pleasure.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I felt like the magical realism was the strongest element of this book, but I just didn’t connect with it at all. I felt like I was missing something the whole time. I like atmospheric books, but I felt like this one just needed more things than *just* atmosphere. I remember being a bit disappointed with the end, though I can’t remember why now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely agree that the magical realism was the best part! And apart from me, I don’t think I know anyone who actually liked the book… it’s definitely not the easiest one to recommend.


      I was a bit disappointed that the deathless man and the tiger’s wife never meet!! Absurd, I was waiting to see them interact with each other.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh, great review! Even though we didn’t have quite the same rating (I just got my review up as well) I think we had similar impressions.
    The magical realism parts were also the most engaging for me while reading, even though their conclusion in the end wasn’t quite bold enough to satisfy me. And I completely agree about the narrator giving too much information about some of the side characters! Getting entire histories for all of them was a little exhausting, and the “let me explain why he’s abusive” chapter was THE WORST just in concept, I DO NOT forgive that man, even though his life was tragic.
    But I love the point you make about the two women- the one being voiceless and the other telling someone else’s story; I noticed both of those things, but didn’t really consider them together as part of the same message! Thanks for bringing that to my attention!
    Anyway, I’m so glad you had a better time with this than I did! I hope the others will as well.


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