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Wonderfully crafted novel set in Siberia

24th September 2019

Tiger by Polly Clark, novel set in Siberia.

novel set in Siberia

Polly Clark weaves together four different narratives in this powerful and gripping tale.  The first focuses on Frieda, a primatologist, who finds it easier to connect with animals than humans.  Following a violent and unexplained assault, Frieda takes to morphine to manage and her world falls apart.  Forced to leave her job, she starts a new life at Torbet Zoo and begins to be fascinated by their newest arrival, a Siberian tiger.  The second narrative takes us to Siberia, where we meet Tomas, a conservationist, who is struggling to preserve the habitat for the largest and most ferocious of the big cats, despite the steadily advancing threat from logging and poaching.  Far out in the Siberian forest a mother and daughter struggle to exist.  The mother, Edit, comes from the Undeghe people but has left her people and taken her daughter, Zina, to isolation in the forest, in an attempt to save her from exploitation.  Edit does, however, pass on the Undeghe beliefs to her daughter – how the tiger will relentlessly hunt down and kill anyone who attempts but fails to kill them.  Struggling to survive through one of the harshest winters, it is inevitable that the paths of starving mother and daughter and starving tiger mother and cubs will cross.  The final narrative thread takes the reader into the world of the tiger herself.

Tiger gives the reader a story that is engaging, utterly engrossing and mesmerising, but it is so much more.  Clark’s exploration of mother/daughter relationships is very thought-provoking – there is much in this novel that makes you stop and ponder, as you are forced, inevitably to compare nature bared down to its basics as lived by Edit and Zina, the lives of the tigers and our own lives.  Her characterisation is complex and nothing short of brilliant, but like her exploration of theme not always comfortable. There were times during my reading, particularly those sections focussing on Edit and Zina, when I had to put the book down until I had summoned the courage to continue.

Presumably while researching this book, Polly Clark undertook a research trip to the Russian Far East to learn how to track the Siberian tiger and to observe how Russians and the remaining indigenous people live beside these terrifying creatures.  She experienced, first hand, life in the harshest of environments and with only the most basic of amenities.  It is little wonder, then, that the setting of this novel is so powerfully evoked.  The writer certainly isn’t afraid of giving the reader the gritty reality of life, as lived by those who choose to work in inhospitable environments in order to save nature.

Tiger is powerful, wonderfully crafted and utterly unforgettable. I can truthfully say that I have never read anything like this before.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

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