I am somewhat ashamed to say that I know next to nothing about the Kosovo War, even though it was the first major war that I remember happening when I was of an age to hear/think/understand what is going on. I just recall being very confused by it, something along the lines of “but aren’t all those people from one country, so why are they killing each other?” But then, I guess that’s my response to most wars, I just don’t get it.
The Tiger’s Wife didn’t clear up my confusion, but that’s okay, that wasn’t it’s purpose. This was a very beautiful book that travels back and forth in time to tell a number of stories loosely interwoven around the lives of a narrator and her grandfather, both doctors in an unnamed city in the Balkans. The tales coalesce loosely around stories that the grandfather told the granddaughter during trips to the zoo. He always carried a copy of The Jungle Book with him, and was very attached to the character of Shere Khan, the tiger. Stories are presented from different times, different wars and different places, as the country’s boundary changes and the two doctors go back and forth to treat patients.
In a simplistic way, the story allowed the granddaughter to come to an understanding of who her grandfather was through the stories that shaped his life. It allowed her to grow from idolizing child through rebellious teen to loving equal. For the reader, I think the story was a gentle reminder that death is an essential part of life and we need to come to terms with that, whether the deaths are violent and unjust as in a war or peaceful and known after a long illness.
I really enjoyed the complexity of the characters. For instance, the butcher Luka originally comes across as evil – he beats his deaf/mute wife. However, the author raises sympathy for him by describing his early life and aborted attempt to achieve a different kind of life. Without excusing him, she shows him as not only a villain, but a victim as well. I also enjoyed the details about a culture I know nothing of. Descriptions of musical instruments, evenings spent drinking rakija by the river, or hanging out as a teen at the blackmarket are vivid and show a completely different world.
I read this for my bookclub and am very much looking for to discussing it in greater detail than can or should be covered in a review.