Originally published: 2 May 2019
Author: Polly Clark
Published by: riverrun
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 422 pages
Reading dates: 1-4 May 2019
Tiger is a literary masterpiece told in four parts, bringing together the stories of 3 humans and a tiger.
In Part 1 we follow Frieda who is a primatologist studying the bonobo ape at a research institute. After a violent attack that leaves her near death, on return to the Institute she finds herself addicted to morphine and looses her position. Her old boss manages to find her a job working with primates at Torbet Zoo just as they prepare to welcome a magnificent Siberian tiger, in the hope of starting a mating program.
Part 2 centres around Tomas, a Russian conservationist deep in the Siberian taiga. The King tiger has been killed by poachers and a spectacular tigress known as the Countess is now prowling his vast territory along with her two cubs. On learning that a senior government official is to visit their reserve, Tomas is sent into the taiga to get footage of the Countess and her cubs to show the official on his arrival in the hope of getting President Putin’s approval.
Part 3 is about a native mother and daughter (Edit and Zia) who have made a life for themselves for over 10 years in the treacherous wilderness. The Undeghe people tell stories of how the tiger will punish every infraction. When the huntress crosses paths with the tigress, vengeance must follow.
Part 4 offers a glimpse into the life of the Countess herself, describing how she survives in the bleak conditions when a harsh winter leaves her with little food for her and her cubs.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this, having not read Clark’s previous novel Larchfield. I must admit I was simply drawn at first to the absolutely stunning cover with it’s gold foil (I am pretty shallow, don’t judge me!). This was an amazing book – I loved the stories individually and how the threads of the different viewpoints all came together so perfectly.
Beautifully written, I loved all the research that obviously went into writing this. I love a good story and if I can take something away from a book that I have learnt then even better. I must confess that I hadn’t really given tigers much thought before, having admired them in zoos, but never really thinking that deeply about them. And I thought tigers generally lived in Africa – I had no idea there were tigers in Russia. The star of this book, the Siberian tiger is the biggest and most ferocious of all the big cats. They are well known for their long memories and ruthless pursuit of any infraction which is both fascinating and terrifying!
I read a lot of this book with my heart in my mouth – I loved how everyone who came into contact with the tigers respected and admired them. Each scene in the tigers natural habitat is richly atmospheric and filled with wonderfully detailed observations. With themes of relationships between mothers and daughters, this is an accomplished and fascinating novel which easily earns 5 stars from me!
Lots of other lovely bloggers are shouting from the rooftops about this book – please take a look at their posts too! And on Tuesday 7th May, Polly Clark will be available for a Q&A session from 8pm on the riverrun Twitter channel.
Many thanks to Katya at Quercus Books for sending me a beautiful copy for review.
About the author:
Polly Clark was born in Toronto and lives in Helensburgh on Scotland’s West Coast and on a houseboat in London. Her four poetry collections have between them won the Eric Gregory Award, been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and the Michael Marks Awards, and selected twice as one of the Poetry Book Society’s books of the year. Her first novel
Larchfield won the MsLexia Novel Prize and was published in 2017 to critical acclaim.
Polly has worked as a groom for showjumpers, a volunteer ranger for the Wildfowl Trust and as a zookeeper at Edinburgh Zoo. Whilst at the zoo, she became fascinated by animals that retain their true wildness even in captivity, the greatest of these being the tiger.
The largest and most ferocious of all the big cats is the Siberian or Amur tiger. With a territory of up to 500 square miles to maintain, in some of the harshest conditions on earth, these tigers are legendary for their long memories and ruthless pursuit of any infraction. Vanishingly rare, Siberian tigers are extremely hard to observe. In November 2017 Polly undertook a research trip to the Russian Far East to learn how to track them, to photograph them using camera traps, and to observe how Russians and the remaining indigenous people live alongside these truly wild – and dangerous – creatures. In a corner of the vast taiga where only 100 non-Russians have ever been, she lived without proper sanitation in temperatures of -35C for two weeks and tracked these lords of the forest in their natural habitat.