My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the first book I read for my Around the World challenge, and what a way to start. The reason I have both Yugoslavia and Croatia listed is that the locations are intentionally unnamed or made up throughout the novel. Obreht does this on purpose to disassociate story from place, since so much of the turmoil in that area of the world is caused by family name endings and minor differences.
The story is about two generations of doctors in a family - the grandfather and the granddaughter, and as the story starts, the grandfather has just passed away. Combined throughout is the story of his childhood, as well as hers, both living through strained peace and chaotic conflict.
Every once in a while, Obreht will step back and set the scenery for the reader. I saw one review that thought this was a misstep, but to me it was a reminder that while this is written in the present day, these places are not the same as what I as the reader know. Each place has so much history - some of the buildings and land ownership date back to medieval times, for instance. In that same spirit, there are two legends that wind throughout the story, that of the tiger's wife, and the deathless man. I loved moving back and forth between the past and present, the story and the reality.
One quotation that stood out:
"In the country's last hour, it was clear to him, as it was to me, that the cease-fire had provided the delusion of normalcy, but never peace. When your fight has purpose - to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of an 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 teh 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."
Baked good that I made to go with the book: Paprenjaci (Croatian Black Pepper Cookies)
Music I listened to while reading: I did hunt down some popular Croatian music, but Natalia (the main character) prefers Paul Simon (Graceland) and Bruce Springsteen (Born in the USA), so I listened to those albums!
ETA: I did do some Croatian listening. For a special treat, check out Croatia's highest placer in the Eurovision contest, Boris Novković.