Indies 2012 Book Awards

Independent American book sellers have listed their picks for the 2012 Indies Choice Book Awards and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards.  If you haven’t read them yet, click on the title for the review and decide where to start reading…

Adult Fiction Book of the Year: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year: Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Adult Debut Book of the Year: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

When was the last time you read a book aloud?  Even to yourself? The E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards offer some ways to start.

E.B. White Read-Aloud Award – Middle Reader:

E.B. White Read-Aloud Award – Picture Book: I Want My Hat Back by Klassen

New York Times Top 5 Fiction Books of 2011

Four out of five – not bad.  The five best fiction books for 2011, according to the New York Times Book Review section include three I’ve read and reviewed; one I am currently reading; the fifth I will probably skip –  Ten Thousand Saints – unless you have a recommendation to reconsider?

The other four in the year’s top titles:


The Art of Fielding           Swamplandia!                       The Tiger’s Wife

Currently reading: 11/22/63

Not sure I agree with all of them – what about you – which books would you have picked for top 5?

Holiday Books – Notable Books for 2011

The New York Times Book Review section has their list of 100 notable books of 2011 ready for Christmas giving ideas.  I have a lot of catching up to do – I’ve only read 9 on the list. Click on the title to find my review:

The Art of Fielding

Blood, Bones and Butter


The Stranger’s Child    Swamplandia!  The Tiger’s Wife


The Sense of an Ending

For the complete list, click on 100 Notable Books of 2011

The Tiger’s Wife – continued – finished and appreciated

Tea Obrecht, Author of The Tiger's Wife

For those who are lost in the book – wondering whether or not to finish it – or whether to start at all…I’m continuing the review of The Tiger’s Wife – now that I have finally finished it…

When Steven Galloway wrote The Cellist from Sarajevo, he told the story outright; it was impossible not to understand the fears and terrors of the war.  But with The Tiger’s Wife,  Obrecht is obscure and only sidesteps how circumstances have changed lives – as though it’s too horrible to tell as it is – maybe she’s right.  Her use of myth and superstitious folk tales masks the real details.  As a result, her story does not follow a linear progression:  it jumps from Natalia’s modern dealings with those who have been emotionally scarred by predators to her grandfather’s youth with the folklore and superstitious stories that he held on to, even when he became a respected doctor.

Among her grandfather’s stories,  Natalia remembers the tale of the tiger’s wife, and she looks for more information as she returns to her grandfather’s boyhood village to recover his belongings, after he dies.  The tiger’s wife is a deaf-mute girl, constantly beaten and abused by her butcher husband; she feeds raw meat to the wild tiger escaped from the zoo – successfully keeping him satiated, thus saving the villagers.  Just as no good deed goes unpunished, the villagers’ superstitions lead them to see her not as a saviour, but as complicit with the devil.  Her mysterious pregnancy, after her husband’s death, only adds to their furor.

The vein of superstition is constant – in the story of the deathless man her grandfather periodically meets, who predicts death but cannot die; in the mora who feed off the graves of the dead, insuring their passage to the other side; in the tiger’s wife – and other folk stories Obrecht weaves into the action.  In the end, Natalia concludes that these superstitions have helped older survivors through the awfulness of war – the unknown was created as so horrible that the actual horrors are manageable.

When I read that some readers had dismissed the book halfway through  (as I almost did) because the story line was so difficult to follow, I was determined to persevere and analyze why I was finding it so hard to read.  Obrecht does jump in time and place, but so have other authors who have successfully navigated this.  The writing tool that tripped me was her constant penchant for introducing a character, then backtracking to describe his/her background, family, idiosyncracies – too much information too soon; it seemed irrelevant until I figured out how the character fit, and by that time, I was losing interest or forgetting the connection.   So, I started to skip over pieces to find the action again – then returned to the description – took a little longer, but helped me stay connected to the story.

The Tiger’s Wife is one of those books that demands analysis and slow reading – not for the faint hearted or readers who like to “get through” quickly to find out what happened. The war in the Balkans happened – again and again – and still.  The story is complicated, and the ending offers no real resolution.    The people somehow survived, but never to be the same.  Obrecht’s story tries to give a glimpse of why they are still afraid – the tiger gives them an excuse to forget the real terror.

This complicated book is probably not a good choice for a book club – unless it’s connected to a university discussion class – but a candidate for an award – it is on the list for the UK Orange Prize for Fiction.

The Tiger’s Wife

I have been reading this book for over a week now – not consistently, which is a problem.  I forget and need to backtrack each time I pick it up.  It’s not that the book is not compelling – it is hypnotizing, as Obreht weaves a story around the unrest in the Balkans and a generational tale of a doctor and his grandaughter, Natalia, in The Tiger’s Wife.  But, I am finding it hard to concentrate, knowing there is an underlying message I am missing.

The story is sprinkled with fables, with Kipling’s The Jungle Book at the core, a favorite book Natalia’s grandfather always carried with him, and often read to his granddaughter. Clearly, the tales of the tiger carry a meaning beyond the obvious, but the telling lulls me into the childlike comfort of having someone read a story to me – before the action returns to the grim reality of poverty and a war-torn country.

Obreht opens with the news of the death of Natalia’s grandfather far from home, as Natalia, a doctor herself, is on her way to inoculate a village of orphans in a remote area. Natalia has known that her grandfather was ill and his sudden decision to travel seems strange.  When his body is returned, his belongings are missing, even The Jungle Book.

As Natalia makes a sidetrip to recover his things, she remembers his stories about the tiger, and the many visits to the zoo they made when she was a young girl.  She recalls her rebellious teenage years, and a time, after the zoo was destroyed, when she and her grandfather saw an elephant roaming the war-ravaged streets, and her grandfather’s admonition to keep the sighting a secret.

When Natalia remembers her grandfather’s stories, she sees them again as fantasy, and it would be easy to fall into that deception, but Obreht slowly uncovers pieces of the stories, and inserts notes of suspicion and political unrest as a reminder of where this story is taking place and what has happened.

I need to finish, but the reality and horror of Obreht’s message is seeping in, and it’s hard to take in all at once.  I’ll just take my time.

Has anyone else read the book?