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Tea Obreht's Novel "The Tiger's Wife" Wins Orange Prize

Tiffany Tsai |
June 10, 2011 | 11:38 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

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http://kobason.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/meet-tea-obreht.jpg
Astounding bettors and pleasing critics, Téa Obreht became the youngest winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction on Wednesday for her novel The Tiger’s Wife.  Obreht, 25, is a product of vastly ranging geographical influences but also a local one—she graduated USC creative writing in 2006.

The Tiger’s Wife marks the novelistic debut of the Serbian-American author, who came to Southern California via an upbringing divided among Belgrade, Cyprus, Cairo, and Atlanta. At USC, she studied art history as well as creative writing and honed her dance steps in the Latin Fusion ballroom troupe and her craft in workshops with T.C. Boyle. Characters from the lore of her native Yugoslavia inhabit the multigenerational, diachronic story grounded in the Balkan wars.

While Obreht has garnered much acclaim for her short stories and has made the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40,” she seemed like a long shot for the Orange Prize. The Guardian on June 8 put 2/1 odds on the Emma Donoghue novel, Room. Set entirely within an 11-by-11 ft room, Room earned its place as the favorite after tallying 69 percent of the Orange shortlist sales on Amazon.co.uk. The next most popular candidate, The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna, came in at 12 percent, and The Tiger’s Wife landed at 8 percent of sales.

Here is the complete shortlist:

Emma Donoghue (Irish) - Room

Aminatta Forna (British/Sierra Leonean) - The Memory of Love

Emma Henderson (British) - Grace Williams Says it Loud

Nicole Krauss (American) - Great House

Téa Obreht (Serbian/American) - The Tiger's Wife

Kathleen Winter (Canadian) - Annabel

Founded in 1996, the Orange Prize is one of the most prestigious awards in contemporary fiction. It forms a UK “trinity,” according to the BBC, with the Man Booker and Costa Book Awards, which are regarded as overseas counterparts to the National Book Awards in the U.S. Each year, a panel of five women judges selects one book written by a female author that has been published in the UK the previous year. Barbara Kingsolver won the Orange last year for her long-awaited novel The Lacuna. Take-home trophies include £30,000 and a limited-edition sculpture called the “Bessie,” both the largess of an anonymous donor.

Téa Bajraktarevic (Obreht is her nom de plume) originally submitted The Tiger’s Wife as her master’s thesis in the Cornell Creative Writing MFA program, which she undertook after attending USC.  “It started as a workshop story,” she told the Cornell Daily Sun in an interview.  “It didn’t do so hot. It got slammed.”

Hotness isn’t a problem for the author these days. The Guardian is saying that The Tiger's Wife may signal a return to fabulism, the European literary tradition of old that has recently been overshadowed by the grimy, gritty depictions of realism. Although you will find Ruth Fowler’s acerbic bashing of the prize and its recipient on the Huffington Post, here is a more typical rave, with minor reservations, from Kirkus Reviews:

Haunted as it is by the specter of civil war, this confident debut steers clear of specific blame for any particular group, concentrating instead on the stories people tell themselves to explain the unthinkable. While at times a bit too dense and confusing, Obreht's remarkable story showcases a young talent with a bright future.

Read Obreht’s short story from her USC years, “The Brejevina Coach,” here.  

 Reach Tiffany Tsai here.



 

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