Thursday, April 14, 2011

Meeting Tea Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife

At the end of the book conference, there was an after-party with the authors. There were drinks and a cake to celebrate Tennessee William's birthday. Andrew and I arrived early and perused a table full of all the books the authors wrote, and as I was scanning over the titles, I found this book:

I already heard of The Tiger's Wife from reading a New York Times article about her. Tea Obreht's book is big -- 28 on the Barnes and Nobles sales rank. Not only is she a debut novelist, but this was her agent's first sale and her editor's first acquisition. She's also my age! (Twenty-six.) Of all the living authors I would like to speak to, she is at the top.

I had no idea she would be at this conference. Andrew told me she spoke the day before, so I thought I missed her. Missed opportunities are the worst. You never get those back.

I told the book store owner how disappointed I was that I missed her, and she said Tea Obreht would be at the bookstore and she would be sure to tell me when she arrived. 

I learned that you should talk to people. Anyone. Everyone. Just talk. It doesn't matter who it is or what you talk about; you never know what they'll say or how much they can help you, like the book store owner helped me.

The moment Tea Obreht walked through the door, the bookstore owner grabbed her and pulled her over to talk to me. I have a tendency to say stupid things in front of authors, so I was nervous. Then I got to talking with her, and I felt completely at ease. She didn't feel like a celebrity; she felt more like a TA in a college class.

I told her how cool I thought it was that she, her agent, and her editor are so new and how impressed I was that she's my age. She highly recommended getting a new agent because you develop a closer relationship. As for experience, if the agent works for a good agency, she will have all the resources she needs.

Many bitter authors talk like agents just pick random books to represent regardless of quality, which I always thought was ridiculous. Tea said agents are hungry to find good books. I like that. I like thinking that maybe I'll help satisfy someone's hunger.
I mentioned that I had a book I plan to query in July, and she asked about it.

"It's a historical fiction about Vestal Virgins. They were priestesses in Rome..."

"Oh yeah, I know who they were."

"When I heard about them, I thought, how has no one written a book about them before?"

"I know. That's a great topic. Most people our age are writing bar room books."

(I don't know what a bar room book is, but I'm glad I didn't write one.)

"I was just grateful that history was there for me to use," I said.

"Well, don't give up because you never know how long it will take. We sent my book to seventeen publishing companies before one of them accepted it."

(Since she was published by Random House, my dream company, I'm sure it was worth the wait.)

She signed my book and said she needed to speak to someone behind me, so I thanked her and said it was great meeting her. I turned around and realized I had talked to her so long that a line of ten people were behind me waiting their turn. I had no idea they were there... oops.

Of all my experiences as a writer, this was by far the most helpful and the most exciting. I'm so grateful she took the time to talk to me, and I can't wait to read her book!

Click below to read a summary of The Tiger's Wife.

Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation.
In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.

But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.

Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weeklytrips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.


  1. Congratulations! That's so exciting that you got to meet one of your heroes. That's always an exciting and (hopefully) enlightening experience. Sounds like she gave you some good advice too!

  2. 2nd time today that I've read a recommendation of the Tiger's Wife, which I will optimistically assume is not about Elin Woods. As soon as my husband gives back my Kindle, I'm purchasing this and hopefully losing myself in another winner.

  3. You make me want to read this book right now! You are right about so much turmoil coming from small differences, not just there but across the world.


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