I’ve written before about book buzz, the excitement that builds up in the time between learning about a book’s impending publication and the day on which it becomes available. When my friend D told me casually, over a lovely cup of Ladro coffee, that Tea Obreht was finally publishing a novel, I got a giddy feeling. That’s right, giddy. I had recently read 20 Under 40, a collection of stories from The New Yorker by their selection of the cool young kids in the literary fiction world. It was a good book, not the best ever, but there were some outstanding stories included, and one of the highlights was by (then) 24-year old Tea Obreht.
24. 24. How impressive that she was a published author in the first place, and now her forthcoming novel was receiving Early Buzz. People were talking about The Tiger’s Wife, scrambling for review copies, getting into their local library’s queue, preordering from bookstores. I didn’t even look at the plot summary of the novel, just got into my library queue and waited. I wasn’t always patient about it, checking my place in line every other day or so.
I was in queue for a long time. While I waited, friends were reading; I started to hear snippets. I heard one friend say that the opening chapter was brilliant, but then she was stalled, having trouble wanting to pick it back up. Another said that it was okay, but she wasn’t sure what all the hype was about because it wasn’t that good. My giddiness was turning to doubt. But I stayed in line! By the time my turn came up, I was nervous to read, not wanting my excitement to become disappointment but hoping with all my might that this first Obreht novel would be as enjoyable as her story in 20 Under 40. And so my faithful waiting was rewarded.
I finished last night, reading in bed a bit after my bedtime, and I loved The Tiger’s Wife. I loved the main character’s relationship with her grandfather and her stubborn determination to celebrate his legacy in her own way. I loved the stark backdrop of a war-torn Balkan country where legends and superstitions were inseparable from everyday life: wandering souls, a man who couldn’t die, a tiger that shed his skin at night to be with his human wife. It was elegant, emotional and uncomplicated.
If you enjoy Julie Orringer, Aleksandar Hemon, Julie Otsuka or Michael Ondaatje, The Tiger’s Wife is for you. It doesn’t feel like a novel by a 24-year old, but I am so glad that it is: this means that Tea Obreht has lots of time left to write more novels for which I will wait for in giddy anticipation.