The Tiger's Wife - Téa Obreht
The name of the narrator of this story is Natalia Stefanović; but the piece of the former Yugoslavia that she lives in is not named nor is her home "the City", she is vague about political facts, most characters in the story are given a first name only or referred to by designations like "my grandfather". There are named towns but they are fictional. All these are deliberate choices, a commentary on ethnic divisiveness that places deadly significance on a person's last name or what side of a border they were born on. More than simply opposing this process, Natalia (and the author) is refusing to participate in it. The power of names comes up in other ways, like with "the tiger's wife" whose name no one knows, or the apothecary who keeps changing his (he has a secret name and a secret ethnic identity; with bitter irony, he uses a signal of ethnic solidarity to attempt to deceive the tiger's wife).

There is another reason for Natalia's vagueness about large issues and specificity about particular incidents. Her grandfather says on a memorable occasion, "The story of this war—dates, names, who started it, why—that belongs to everyone....But something like this—this is yours." She will not be drawn into voicing the kind of public "facts" that are disputed, but wants to tell the personal stories. They are wonderful stories, too, magical and heartbreaking.

Natalia's grandfather told her a series of tales about "the deathless man" (based on the familiar fairy tale "Godfather Death") who made it his mission to help people accept death. This is another main theme of the book. All through we find people dealing with their fears and griefs by superstitions and rituals. People cling to relics of their lost loved ones, from the grandmother's concern with her husband's personal belongings, to innumerable paintings of one dog, and (the most grotesque variant) a hunter's obsession with taxidermy. There's a family who think that their failure to properly bury a cousin is making them physically sick. Natalia's superstition about death is her need to believe in the reality of the deathless man.

The deathless man was once a physician, says Natalia's grandfather; so are the grandfather and Natalia herself. The chapters alternate between the grandfather's childhood, which is the story of the tiger's wife, and his old age, after he had gained a lot of wisdom helping dying patients. He tries to pass on this wisdom to Natalia. She's maybe still too young, when narrating this novel, to really get it; but she will.