Monday, June 8, 2009
Tea Obreht, The Tiger's Wife
Run, don't walk, to the newsstand and buy the June 8 & 15 copy of The New Yorker, the summer fiction issue. The "debut fiction" is a very impressive debut indeed by a very young person, born in 1985, Tea Obreht. She was born in Yugoslavia.
"The Tiger's Wife" is a kind of oral history/folk tale that recalls the short stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer, in that it is set in a rural village in Eastern Europe. The narrator "heard" the story from various sources, mostly her grandfather, but there are events in the story that the grandfather didn't know, says the narrator. It's never exactly clear where the story is happening. And it's not clear what parts of it are "true." In that respect, it also reminds the reader of magical realism, as in the stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, where nothing is really certain, and some pretty incredible things happen.
On the other hand, the setting of the story in time is very specific: April of 1941, when German bombs were falling on "the city." A tiger, who is not exactly in a zoo but behind some kind of bars, escapes because of the bombing and wanders through the city (Belgrade?) and out into the country, to the village where the narrator's grandfather lives with his grandmother. He is a boy of nine when the events in the story happen.
Evidently this story is part of a longer novel, to be published in 2010. I tried to pre-order it through Amazon, but it is not available as yet.
The illustration for the New Yorker story is also pretty great: it's by an Italian graphic artist named Lorenzo Mattotti. It looks like it was done with colored pencil or pastels.