Téa Obreht’s Anti-War Message

Just wrapped up a discussion of Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife in my course on contemporary literature. In my remarks, I made no secret of my unease with the novel’s ideological message. After the bombing raids start in an unnamed city in an unnamed Balkan country at some unspecified time in the last 12 years, her grandfather makes clear to the narrator Natalia his view of war:

When your fight has purpose — to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of the innocent — it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling — when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event — there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it.

A little later in the novel, the grandfather explains that he has no side in the war. “I am all sides,” he says. The novelist too, by all appearances. Obreht’s method is to strip history from The Tiger’s Wife. Even when Germans “arrive” in grandfather’s village and “finally the train” begins to run through town, “the rattle and cough of the tracks” awakening the villagers at night, the Germans are not identified as Nazis and the train is not identified as going to Auschwitz (and the Jews are erased altogether). The “endless war” could be any war in which any innocents are killed in any way.

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Téa Obreht’s Anti-War Message

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