The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife Summary and Analysis of "The Heart" (8), "The Bear" (9), and "The Crossroads" (10)


"The Heart" returns to the life of the adult Natalia. While returning from Zdrevkov, Natalia stops to buy more candy for the children at the orphanage. Natalia also calls her grandmother, providing the details of the trip but not discussing the people she encountered. Natalia's grandmother, preoccupied with the forty days of the soul observance, wants to know if Natalia has opened the bag with her grandfather's belongings. Natalia reassures her grandmother that the bag is sealed.

The day is coming to an end by the time Natalia returns to Brejevina. She finds several of her acquaintances, including Barba Ivan and Zora, in the vicinity of the vineyard. Dure, it turns out, has successfully located the body of his cousin (which was stuffed in a suitcase and then buried). Dure reads out a blessing, Fra Antun sprinkles the suitcase with holy water, and then the diggers proceed to open the suitcase and extract the bones of their relative. These bones are wiped down with a rag, which is then rolled up and dubbed the "heart" of the body.

For the next stage of the exhuming ritual, the heart is burned: the ashes must then be taken to a crossroads in the town and a vigil must be held. Someone who is not a family member must perform this task. Fra Antun declines, but Natalia volunteers, on the condition that the diggers then obtain medical care for their sick children.

"The Bear" shifts the focus back to the events surrounding the commotion in Galina and introduces the character of Darisa, a famed bear hunter who decides to track down the tiger. Rumors spread that Darisa had lived among bears and that he could turn into a bear himself: in fact, Darisa hunted bears primarily because he enjoyed taxidermy. In terms of family, Darisa was the son of an Austrian engineer. He was devoted to his sister Magdalena, who was sickly; the prospect of her death filled Darisa with profound fear when he was growing up. Darisa was also strongly influenced by his boyhood visits to the Winter Palace of Emin Pasha, a magnificent structure that had been converted into a leisure club and museum. He accompanied Magdalena to this site, was disoriented by the hall of mirrors, and was intrigued by the taxidermy animals that he encountered.

A visit to the Winter Palace also brought Darisa into contact with Bogdan Dankov, a taxidermist. Darisa became Mr. Bogdan's apprentice. After the deaths of Magdalena and Mr. Bogdan, Darisa, who had fallen on hard times, found work in a tavern owned by an old gypsy named Karan. Fortunately for his taxidermy craft, Darisa was given the opportunity to work with the body of Karan's dancing bear after it died. Soon, Darisa learned of a new way to indulge in taxidermy: aristocrats interested in hunting needed reliable guides, and the animals that they hunted could furnish Darisa with taxidermy skins. Darisa evolved into an efficient hunter, traveling from village to village, collecting animal skins, and eventually coming to specialize in hunting infamous "problem bears.”

Darisa makes his way to Galina while the tiger is still present. At first he is reluctant to hunt the animal, but the apothecary's appeals and the pity-inducing presence of the Tiger's Wife cause him to stay and help the villagers. His attempts to hunt the tiger, however, are repeatedly foiled: his traps are detected and neutralized, and the tiger's footprints are wiped out. At first, it appears that Natalia's grandfather may be responsible, but soon Darisa is led to believe that the Tiger's Wife is playing a part in defeating his efforts. For its part, the tiger comes to recognize Darisa's distinctive smell. After a time, the famous hunter departs in irritation.

On the night after Darisa's departure, Natalia's grandfather wakes from a troubled sleep and makes his way outside. He follows a set of tracks that belong to the Tiger's Wife and finds her in a clearing outside the town, her arms full of meat. As Natalia's grandfather reaches her, Darisa also appears, carrying a gun. Darisa assaults her, and Natalia's grandfather rushes at Darisa and bites him. A scuffle ensues; Natalia's grandfather is able to get hold of Darisa's gun and shoots Darisa in the face. As soon as the fight is over, the Tiger's Wife and Natalia's grandfather flee the scene together.

With "The Crossroad,” the narrative returns to Brejevina. Dure is reluctant to send Natalia to the crossroads, but consents because the crowd has thinned out and his options are limited. He also consents to send the children for medical examination and treatment. For her part, Natalia has become increasingly interested in the process of depositing the heart and meeting the mora--a process that she now believes may have a meaningful relation to her past.

Fra Antun then speaks to Natalia, and clarifies a few items of his family's past. It turns out that Bis belongs to Arlo, who is Fra Antun's deceased brother. Around the time of the war, Arlo was killed by a group of boys who came through town on a camping trip; his body was thrown into a dumpster near his house.

Natalia and Fra Antun arrive at the site of Natalia's vigil, the Shrine of the Virgin, where they bury the "heart" of Dure's relative. Fra Antun picks up some garbage, and expresses surprise when Natalia declares that she will see the vigil through (since most people, apparently, abandon such ceremonies part of the way through). He is anxious for her safety, considering that it is night, and advises her to stay off the road. Hours pass; Natalia observes the insects and mammals that emerge at night. Eventually, a figure appears, and begins digging up the jar that contains the "heart.” The figure also retrieves and counts out some coins before setting off on a path away from town, into the mountains. Natalia follows.


Natalia does not necessary belittle or insult the diggers in "The Heart,” but she does indicate that what they are doing is not always elevated or mystical. Dure has a set of illegible instructions, the cousin was stuffed in a suitcase (not a more elaborate container), and the people in the vicinity have gathered to watch, treating the unearthing as something of a spectacle. Nor does Natalia fully understand what "the heart" is until she observes the procedure in full. At least for now, her mind is on everyday, practical circumstances: she continues to press for medical treatment for Dure's children, and she takes a more active role in Dure's rituals mainly to secure this goal.

Another divide between Natalia's understanding and more superstitious or mystical views is found in "The Bear." Numerous misconceptions surrounded Darisa: "Ask someone from Galina about Darisa the Bear, and the conversation will begin with a story that isn't true: Darisa was raised by bears--or, he only ate bears" (Page 239). The true story of Darisa is not so outlandish, but may be much more unexpected. It turns out that Darisa was a sensitive man from a good family, and that he was a taxidermist of apparent skill. Although these traits may not be as memorable as the idea that Darisa could transform into a bear (another Darisa tale), the reality of the seemingly gruff Darisa indicates that fact can sometimes be even more incongruous than fiction.

Obreht also uses these sections to return to the perspective of the tiger. By doing so, she both emphasizes that the animal is still at large and introduces a new viewpoint on Darisa's hunting: "The tiger had been in the thickets above the ruined monastery for days, his ears straining for the faint sound of the hunter setting traps along the bottom of the hill, obvious to him now that he recognized the sound and smell of them" (Page 261). Remember, various people in Galina seem to be working against Darisa's efforts: Natalia's grandfather, the Tiger's wife, and even the apothecary. By returning to the tiger, Obreht indicates that the tiger is not itself helpless by any means--and suggests that it truly is a worthy adversary for the feared hunter.

Darisa's fate, though, is hard to process at first. The scene in which Darisa encounters Natalia's grandfather and the Tiger's Wife occurs "after hours of half dreams" (Page 262) on the grandfather's part, and has a dreamlike quality itself. The mysterious route, sudden coincidences, and abrupt ending may cause the reader to wonder how true to life (if at all) the images presented are. Nor does Obreht resolve this issue immediately: rapidly shifting back to the events in Brejevina, though a frequent tactic in the novel, is especially effective here as a way of building tension and uncertainty.

However, other plot strands in The Tiger's Wife begin to near their resolutions. Bis's backstory is revealed, and a reason for the abundant images of this dog is indicated: it is fully possible that making these images is Brejevina's way of commemorating Arlo, however indirectly. But just a few pages later, Natalia is presented with a new phenomenon to make sense of: the appearance of the mora. Whether this figure is the Deathless Man, a resident of the town, a digger, a prankster, or a figment of Natalia's imagination is yet another question that Obreht strategically leaves for another chapter.