Review: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

Téa Obreht has her fictional debut in the New Yorker with “The Tiger’s Wife.” The story, taken from her novel that’s due out this April, questions fact and fiction based upon memory. Obreht begins her story with one fact. The city was bombed in 1941 by Germans. The story immediately breaks from that shifting into a fictional tale about a tiger and the pivotal role the tiger plays in villager’s lives during a horrifying time of Nazi threat.

Told from the tiger’s perspective which is very much like a child’s, the tiger has no sense of what is happening around him. The tiger’s plight of escaping his confines while falling bombs surround him, accentuates the desperation of not being able to break out. Not understanding the meaning of war, yet wanting to escape the caged feeling, the tiger’s predicament runs parallel with the citizens of the city. Feeling threatened, weakened by lack of provisions and resources of means to flee, the overwhelming sense of doom is encapsulated by the tiger’s position.

Obreht’s quiet mention of the tiger’s place being a citadel almost goes unnoticed with the descriptive analogy of the punctured wound felt by the tiger when the bombing of the fortresses’ wall turns to rubble. The combination of the two victims—one of the citadel, the other the tiger—are formidable.   

With a hole in the citadel, freedom is provided for the tiger to roam wild in the midst of war that creates fear for the citizens yet the tiger is the hinge that creates mysticism, speculation and a questionable reliance of memory of what truly happened in a time long gone.

The tiger which Obreht refers to as the “jungle creeper” is another way of describing the German invasion and the Germans themselves. The German tanks were known as tigers, although they didn’t come into existence until 1942 and her story begins in 1941; I can’t help but think that Obreht’s choice of this particular animal was a purposeful one that had to do with the distasteful disgust of Germans during the war furthering her metaphorical meaning of tiger.

Ignorance, change and the unquestioning understanding of what took place long after the tiger is gone leaving only the word—tiger—behind as a descriptive means to depict a character’s wife, curiously takes the reader into her unknown realm. The mysterious woman, who then becomes the focal point left by the tiger’s departure from the story, remains in a fogging haze.  

It is from the metaphor of tiger that Obreht pushes the reader into a realm told by a woman whose Grandfather loved tigers. How much of the story is true and what was fabricated leaves an unquestioning wake in the tiger’s exodus.

The story’s point is like any story retold: how to separate fact from fiction. Beginning with one fact, Obreht’s fiction falls right into place.