Wednesday, 17 June 2009


Téa Obreht wasn't born that long ago (1985), but she is a born storyteller. Her literary launch is an auspicious one, taking place as it does in the pages of the New Yorker's recent summer fiction issue, among such luminaries as Jonathan Franzen, Aleksander Hemon and Yiyun Li.

'The Tiger's Wife', excerpted from Obreht's debut novel of the same name, has the elemental pull of a fable and the rootedness of a folk tale, but from the outset its concerns could not be more urgent and contemporary:

'Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs . . .'

As we follow the traumatised tiger through the war-ravaged landscape and to the ridge above the village of Galina, he becomes the embodiment of the fears, superstitions and myths of the local people. And for one little boy, the narrator's grandfather, he is Shere Khan come to life from the pages of his beloved Jungle Book.

This is a rich mixture, but the material is beautifully handled by Obreht. The story never gets bogged down in allegory; its resonances ring true. It is the work of an author who is destined for great things.

Obreht, who was born in Belgrade in former Yugoslavia and left in 1992 on the outbreak of war, has said in an interview that her novel is based on personal experiences: 'It’s a family saga that takes place in a fictionalized province of the Balkans. It’s about a female narrator and her relationship to her grandfather, who’s a doctor. It’s a saga about doctors and their relationships to death throughout all these wars in the Balkans.'

The Tiger's Wife will be published in the US in and in the UK in July next year.

(In a departure from The Roving Editor's usual practice, the featured work is not freely available to read online. However I thought the story too exceptional to miss, so I would encourage you to sign up for the New Yorker's free preview of its digital edition here.)

UPDATE: More on Téa here.

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