Young writer takes on Balkan folklore with interesting tales

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Published: May 15,2011

Tags: Emily Gatlin, Gum Tree Books, MBJ Book Biz, Tea Obreht

At age 25, Tea Obreht has already made a name for herself. Before “The Tiger’s Wife” was published as a book, excerpts appeared in The New Yorker magazine and caused quite a stir. Obreht earned a spot on the venerable magazine’s “20 Under 40” list of fiction writers — indeed as the youngest writer on the list.

Emily Gatlin, another young lady and manager of Gum Tree Books in Tupelo, is a voracious reader and recommends “The Tiger’s Wife.” “It’s one of the most well written books I’ve read in a long time,” she said. “It’s hard to explain what the book’s about but it’s very good.”

Gatlin says it will be interesting to follow this young author and see what she does in her writing career.

A native of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Obreht left the country with her parents and grandfather at the height of the war there. She had a special bond with her grandfather who raised her on tales from the village where he lived. She returns to the old country once a year to reconnect with her culture and history.

The book is based on the mysterious death of a young pediatrician’s grandfather and is set in an unnamed country in the Balkans. The pediatrician, Natalia, searches for answers about his death. Along the way she learns more about his village where following the German bombardment in 1941 a tiger escaped from the zoo in a nearby city. The tiger befriended a deaf/mute woman who becomes known as the tiger’s wife. Her evolving tale forms one of the three strands that sustain the novel. The other two are Natalia’s efforts to care for orphans and a wayward family who, to lift a curse, are searching for the bones of a long-dead relative; and Natalia’s grandfather’s stories.

Publishers’ Weekly says of the budding author, “The sometimes crushing power of myth, story and memory is explored in the brilliant debut of Obreht. A young talent takes on folklore.”

Obreht graduated from the University of Southern California, and earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Cornell University. She lives in Ithaca, N.Y.

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