Title: The Tiger’s Wife
Author: Téa Obreht
Page Count: 338 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Tone: Mystical, Haunting, Lyrical
Summary from publisher:
In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her–the legend of the tiger’s wife.
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
1. Did it bother you that there were no actual geographical or time period references?
2. How did the time-shifting aspects of the book affect your experience of the story?
3. Natalia and Zora were together on a mission trip when she finds out that her grandfather had died. Why doesn’t she tell Zora?
4. Zora is in a predicament. There is a malpractice case brought up against a man who is well connected in the medical community. Her dilemma is whether to “stick it to the man she despised for years and risking a career and reputation she was just beginning to build.” She tells Natalia that she wants to ask her grandfathers’ opinion. What advice do you think he would have given her? What would you do?
5. “Swear to me on your life that you didn’t know.” Why didn’t Natalia admit to her grandmother that she knew her grandfather was sick?
6. As Natalia and her grandfather are watching the elephant walk down the street in the middle of the night, Natalia said, “None of my friends will ever believe this.” Her grandfather replied, “The story of the war that belongs to everyone, but something like this, this is yours and belongs only to us.” What do you think he means by this?
7. There are so many references to The Jungle Book and Shere Khan in this novel. Do you see any parallels between Shere Khan of The Jungle Book and the tiger?
8. Why was Barba Ivan’s dog Bis painted by everyone?
9. Leandro understood that part of the tiger was Shere Khan but he has always felt some compassion for Shere Khan. Why do you think that is?
10. How did you feel reading the story from the tiger’s perspective?
11. There are many other animals in this story (parrot, dog, owl, bear). Does their presence have a deeper meaning?
12. Was Dure a good father?
13. Luko, Jovo and the blacksmith go out to kill the tiger after it was seen in the smokehouse. Why did Luko and Jovo tell everyone that the tiger killed the blacksmith and not admit that the gun backfired?
14. Natalia lived most of her life under either the threat of oncoming war or war itself. Would this state have an effect on the decisions one makes for them? How does the lack of a war then affect her?
15. Why do you think “Riki Tiki Tavi” is the deathless man’s favorite story in The Jungle Book?
16. The author said she intended to write the deathless man as more of a menacing character; instead, she felt, he ended up being almost comforting. Had she written that character in a different way, how do you think it would change the tone of the story?
17. Who is the deathless man? Does he exist?
18. Do you think Dr. Leandro, Natalia’s grandfather, is an honorable man? Why or why not?
19. Dr. Leandro placed a wager with the deathless man. Who do you think won? Should Dr. Leandro have paid his debt? If you think he lost the wager does his refusal to honor it change your opinion of him?
20. The second time Dr. Leandro saw the deathless man, there was a miracle by a waterfall. Dr. Leandro was by the waterfall to take care of the sick people that made their pilgrimage there. Gavran Gaile, a.k.a. the deathless man, was by the waterfall as well, and he was letting people know that their time was coming. “But that is what I do; that is my work to give Peace,” the deathless man had said. Do you think that knowing their time is coming gave the sick people peace?
21. Téa Obreht seems to present a character in a certain light, and then she offers background information. Did you find that the background information made you change your initial opinion of any of the characters? If so, which ones and why?
22. Luka takes the tiger’s wife to the smokehouse, ties her up, and leaves her there in hopes that the tiger will devour her. Two weeks later she shows up in town “with a fresh bright face and a smile that suggested something new about her.” What happened to Luka?
23. Why did the villagers hate the tiger’s wife? Why did mother Vera help the tiger’s wife?
24. What was your opinion of the apothecary?
25. Why did Natalia volunteer to take the “heart” to the crossroads and wait for the Mora?
26. What do you think happened to Dr. Leandro’s copy of The Jungle Book?
27. Was there any story or part of the book that particularly struck you?
Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Q&A video with Obreht Part One and Part Two
Video of PBS News Hour interview
Vanity Fair interview
Information on the breakup of Yugoslavia
If you liked The Tiger’s Wife, try…
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman