Tea Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife, Power of Literary Voice


Tea Obreht deserves every award and booklist ranking in the book business today. The Tiger’s Wife [Random House, March 8, 2011 release) is real literature. Some books just break out of the pack and hit you upside the head. This is one of them.

I haven’t finished the book yet; but I’m so loving it I want to slow it down and not let it end. Thrilling to know Tea Obrecht is still in her 20s and has such tremendous potential for a long literary career. I can’t wait to see what she’s writing next.

As a storyteller, Tea situates the reader between the grandfather and his telling of stories to the young woman narrator; both medical foot soldiers in eastern Europe.  The special relationship between a womanchild and her grandfather offers a way inside the meanings of family stories.

The opening page and first fifteen pages now seem a bit of a blur, though obviously well written enough to keep me reading. A blur in that the scene setting and premise seemed if not foreign, unfamiliar and nondescript. Which at this point in the story, begins to make sense that this is her intent as an author.

It could be anywhere. It could be your family. But it’s not. It’s sure not Ithaca. Did I mention Tea Obrecht is an Ithaca author?  This town has real writing talent. And Ithaca is on a roll in recent years with bestselling fiction and non-fiction authors making our community home.

Tea was born in Belgrade and has lived in the U.S. since age 12. The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and  Harper’s  have published Tea’swork. The New Yorker named her one of the 20 best American fiction writers under 40 and she was includd on the National Book Foundation list of 5 under 35. Last month she won the Orange Prize for Fiction in the UK as the youngest recipient ever of this award for excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing internationally.

This Balkan literary voice provides a narrator, Natalia, a young doctor on a mission of mercy to an orphanage. She is haunted by the death of her grandfather, who told his wife he was on his way to see her. Instead he went to a remote and desolate place where he died alone.  She paints a story in the landscape itself.

It’s the stories her grandfather tells and her own childhood experiences with him that suddenly propel the reader forward into fantastical past. The reader and narrator share the expedition in finding the meaning behind these events. Chapter by chapter, Tea Obreht pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the plot.

Margaret Atwood, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver….you’ve got fresh competition in the world of wonderful writers who are women of fine literature.

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