Wikipedia defines Magic realism as an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements blend seamlessly with the realistic event. The story of The Tiger’s Wife explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought. It is a film, literary and visual art genre. There is quite a literature about what is and what is not included in this art form. I love the books by Isabel Allende and Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, both are writers who are examples of the style which has its roots in Latin America.
Tea Obreht in her Orange Prize winning first book, The Tiger’s Wife, uses the style to give her readers the story of a grandfather and granddaughter in war-torn Eastern Europe. Natalia is on her way to ‘the other side of the border’ with her friend and colleague Zora, to a monastery where they will inoculate a group of orphans cared for by Fra Antun. On their way, just when they cross the border, Natalia’s grandmother tells her over the phone that her grandfather has died, apparently on his way to see Natalia. She is extremely upset that they only found out two days after his death, so that two out of the 40 days of mourning have been lost, reducing the time available for his soul to come to rest. Rather than turning back, Natalia carries on to the orphanage, without telling Zora what has happened. The story then weaves her grandfather’s tales into Natalia’s stay with Fra Antun’s parents and her attempt to rescue her grandfather’s belongings. She remembers her grandfather’s stories about the Deathless Man, Gavran Gaile whose uncle, Death, refuses to let him die as punishment for having wanted to save his wife from death; stories about the tiger escaping from the bombed out zoo in the City and the Tiger’s Wife, a deaf mute girl who is given away in marriage to the cruel butcher’s son who in turn is cheated out of his real love. Then there is Darisa the Bear, who as a boy looked after his epileptic sister Magdalena while their father does his engineering work in Egypt and kills himself when war ruins him financially. All the stories weave in and out of the war setting and cruelty brought on by superstition and the uncertainties of who or what is responsible for illnesses and destruction. Eventually Natalia is able to return her grandfather’s belongings to her grandmother and so her grandfather’s soul can be put to rest.
This is such a lovely book. Tea Obreht’s writing skills are supreme and she has a true gift for language, the stories flow seamlessly into each other, making the magic seem as real as the country torn apart by war.
Meanwhile: don’t forget the Literary Give-Away: you can still put your name in my granddaughter’s hat. See post below.