The figurative language of Téa Obreht…

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about similes, metaphors and personification from Téa Obreht…

I’ve not typically enjoyed the genre of magic realism. Somehow, the notion that a “trick” or a Deus Ex Machina can solve a niggling plot problem seems more like laziness than creativity to me, although I know many people disagree with my assessment.

In any case, this attitude was not what kept me from the 2011 book The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht, (pictured above). I hadn’t even realized the story featured magic realism. Instead, my life was busy and when the book fell from public consciousness, as most books do, it also fell from my mind. But I picked it up in a second-hand store just before Christmas and finished it recently.

I was impressed. The story of Natalia — a young doctor in an unnamed Balkan country that is recovering from war — the book addresses her efforts to unravel the mysterious circumstances of her beloved grandfather’s recent death.

The story didn’t move me nearly as much as the writing. Obreht is a fine young writer (only 33 years old) with a keen eye and ear for personification besides other literary devices. Here are my favourite examples of her figurative language:

  • Somebody had fastened a bent hose onto the faucet, and it hung, nozzle down, from the boiler pipes, coughing thin streams of water onto the floor.
  • Every so often, he would take something out of the bag and hold it out to the elephant, and the elephant would lift its trunk form the ground, grip the offering, and loll it back between the yellow sabers of its tusks.
  • The moon threw a tangle of light into the long, soft hairs sticking up out of his trunk and under his chin. The mouth was open, and the tongue lay in it like a wet arm.
  • I remember his hands, and the way they held the shining rag, the way he skimmed it back and forth over the toes of his shoes like he was playing a violin.
  • There was a hot stillness over the sea, and it [the heat] had crawled onto the land and stilled everything, even the vineyard.
  • Nada stood on the downstairs balcony, smoking with about six or seven other women, widows hunched like birds in their black dresses.
  • I imagined the old woman who had sent them here, alone in a small, cold house high above Duré’s village, as milky-eyed and supple-limbed as a toad, devoting every ounce of strength to composing the blessing she knew by heart.
  • Death, winged and quiet, was already in the house with him.
  • All winter, he had not come this far, and now, with the snow groaning under his boots, he ran blindly forward.
  • In winter, the red boughs arch up from the trunk, bare as hip bones, curving like hands clasped in prayer.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Jan. 31/19.

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