About the book –
This is the debut novel of Tea Obreht, published in 2011, when it was also awarded the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize). It is set in fictional wartorn Balkan provinces, and the story spans generations. At the heart of it is a young doctor, who has pieced together the pivotal events of her grandfather’s childhood in an attempt to still her own unrest. It is dedicated to Stefan Obreht, the author’s grandfather.
Some thoughts –
The book weaves several backstories into one twisted narrative. In my opinion, it dragged a little in the beginning, with several tributaries of the main storyline being laid out, but I’m glad I resisted the urge to set it aside. Once the stories started overlapping, things progressed quite quickly. I found the writing very calm and soothing, and the character histories very interesting with just the right blend of fanstasy and believable fiction.
Favorite passages –
“… is your heart a sponge or a fist?”
“… if you are making your journey in a hurry, you are making it poorly.”
“When I put the needle in, he watched the thin depression on his skin deepen without flinching… I had the horrified feeling then that all the kids would be like this, oblivious to pain, unmoved in practice by the things that kids at home reacted against on principle.” – During my training in a government hospital, I was assigned to collect blood samples from leukemic patients in the pediatric wards. These were children who needed regular blood counts, and their arms were peppered with puncture marks. I had expected each extraction to be a struggle — for surely a child who has known the pain of a needle through his skin would not welcome it the next time — but it turned out to be the complete opposite. They seemed resigned; not one of them complained. They met my gaze listlessly as I searched for good veins, and replied with silence when I would apologize in advance for the sting. It was a surreal experience for me, and something the author captured so accurately in these lines.
“But children die how they have been living — in hope… they don’t ask you to hold their hand — but you end up needing them to hold yours.”
“In the end, all you want is someone to long for you…”