Weidenfeld & Nicolson $36.99
Reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino
The beginning is promising. In a Balkan country scarred by war a young doctor called Natalia is setting out to cross the border to deliver vaccines to an orphanage. On the way she discovers her beloved grandfather has died in a clinic in an obscure town no one knew he was visiting. She begins to revisit her memories of him and the legends he has told her about his own life. “Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories: the story of the tiger’s wife and the story of the deathless man” she explains and then proceeds to relate both those tales.
Obreht was born in the former Yugoslavia but raised mostly in the US. Perhaps this novel is her attempt to come to terms with her country’s chaotic and troubled history. It’s an ambitious and imaginative piece of fiction: she folds in folklore, superstition and legend; there is metaphor after metaphor, stories within stories.
She is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above review was first published on 1 May, 2011 as was the Booklover column below.
The book I love most is...........Illywhacker, by Peter Carey. It’s one of his earlier works, but still my favourite – a real tour-de-force, full of fire and magic. Carey’s a writer who can make you laugh and break your heart in the same sentence, and this is a fearless, angry, glorious novel – one that grabs a nation’s idea of itself by the throat and gives it a good shake. For anyone who has ever wondered what the point of historical fiction is – read this.
The book I'd like to read next is........John le Carre’s Our Kind of Traitor. Well, you have to, don’t you?
The book that changed me is........Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was the book that first made me begin to think I might want to try to write fiction, so I guess you could say it changed me.
The book I wish I'd never read is...........I can’t actually remember the title, but a horror novel I read as a teenager – my first and last foray into that genre. It involved a particularly nasty vision of what happens to you after you die… I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say there was a lot of decomposition and zombies, and not in a funny Shaun of the Dead kind of way. Once those sort of images are in your head, it’s hard to get them out again. Death is hard enough to handle. Why make it scary in that way as well?