I think this book was on every single "Best Book of 2011" list, so it was inevitable that I would read it (I'm a sucker for prize-winning books). And it did not disappoint. Although I found it a little hard to get into, once I was in, I was in. The story follows Natalia, a most likely Serbian medical doctor in what is most likely post-war Bosnia (all of the geographic location named have been fictionalized). She and her colleague and friend have gone to a small town to immunize orphans at a local church. Prior to their departure, Natalia learns that her grandfather has died in a small town not too far from their destination, and she goes in search of his belongings and closure. Woven throughout is the story of Natalia's grandfather, growing up in a small remote town in the mountains, and the winter when an escaped tiger from the city zoo made his home in the surrounding countryside.
Obreht weaves multiple layers into one novel in a way that is not forced or overwhelming, but just complex enough to keep the reader interested and involved. There is the relationship and complex dynamic between Natalia and her grandfather; the sad story of the tiger and the townspeople he terrified or befriended; the story of the 'deathless man'; the gypsies who search for their loved ones in long-overgrown fields; and Natalia's own story of medical school in war-torn Serbia (or thereabouts). All of these seemingly disparate narratives are woven together by good, solid writing and strong character development. I can see why the book as received as many accolades as it did.
MY RATING: 8/10