This is the July book selection for the my book group, although I have to wait until the end of the month to hear what the others thought.
At first glance this book might not seem to fit the criteria for historical fiction, however, the book is set in the period of history following the fall of the Eastern Block and USSR; and technically, in 21st Century Europe, Yugoslavia does not exist. Given these events I am sharing my review here.
The story is set in Yugoslavia and explores a young doctor called Natalia. Natalia is seeking to discover the truth of her grandfather's death which occurs whilst she is on a mission to deliver medical supplies to a desperate orphanage in the Balkans which have been ravaged by war.
The myths and folklore of the region; a tiger who escapes from captivity after the second world war bombings of Belgrade and settles in a remote mountain village near to where Natalia's grandfather is growing up. The tiger develops a relationship with a deaf mute girl who becomes known as the tiger's wife.
The heart of the myths are people trying to understand a sense of death; coupled with war and the conflict it brings. The myths survive whilst the ownership of the land and in some cases the people do not. This comes across almost as defiant in a way. This is further emphasised with the cultural mix and is shown through the story of the tiger who is a Muslim living in a Christian village, which for me re-enforced the defiance aspect.
There is a real sense of love between Natalia and her grandfather; and the tattered copy of The Jungle Book humanises the storyline rather than become a politically aggrieved novel. The scene with the character referred to at "The Hat" seemed almost reminiscent of the KGB or various officials of the Soviet regime, and this was further illustrated with the Grandfather, in his role as a doctor forbidden under the regime to see certain patients with regular medical conditions.
This was an interesting structure of a novel for a first book by the author and the the story does seem to drift in places. I found that some the stories of the myths rambling. Overall I found the language was too flowery and there was a real sense of deepness, almost over deep and coupled with complex metaphors I found it too much. In fact, by the time I got to the end I wondered what I missed of the storyline?
My immediate thoughts as I read the book, certainly by page 50 was, had the author tried to create a book of similar vein to Animal Farm by George Orwell? If that was the case, the author has not pulled it off for me.