I was really expecting to love this. And it turned out to be just okay. Don’t get me wrong–Tea Obrecht is a phenomenal writer. Her prose is gorgeous. But the plot of this novel was kind of all over the place, and her characters were not as compelling as I wish they’d been. This book had so much potential, but it didn’t deliver for me.
Let me just say that I am absurdly jealous of Obrecht. She’s only a few years older than me and is already a superstar in the literary world. Which is really cool! I can only dream of being even a fraction as successful when I’m her age. And she definitely deserves a lot of the praise she gets. Like I said–girl can clearly write, and has a pretty unique and interesting perspective, as a first-generation immigrant from Eastern Europe (I want to say Ukraine. I think that’s it, but I’m honestly too tired to look it up right now). This makes me even more jealous, because English isn’t even her first language! It’s pretty unreal.
Anyway. Back to the book. Our narrator is Natalia, a young woman traveling around the Balkans giving immunizations to children. She discovers early on that her beloved grandfather has died mysteriously, alone and in a strange city, after telling his wife he was going to visit Natalia. As she attempts to uncover the truth behind her grandfather’s death, she thinks back to the stories her grandfather told her about his past–the stories involving a tiger, a deathless man, and The Jungle Book.
This book has an almost fairy tale-like quality to it, especially the parts that consisted of her grandfather’s stories. I liked these sections much more than the actual plot of the novel–they were dreamy and compelling and really intrigued me. The sections involving Natalia were, to me, a bit boring. She wasn’t a very engaging narrator, and I found myself not really caring about her or what she was doing. This book just didn’t hold my interest at all–there were sections that I loved and was really invested in, but they were too far and few between.
I certainly don’t think this book lived up to the hype. It was an okay book, written beautifully, but not spectacular. I think Obrecht is going to become huge in the years to come, and people are going to look back at this novel as a promising start, but nothing close to what she produces in the future. It’s very much a first novel–a ton of potential, but too uneven to be truly great.