Obreht's debut novel is set in a Balkan country during "the war" - take your pick as to which war. The narrator, Natalie, while on a humanitarian mission to inoculate children, finds out that her beloved grandfather has died and wants to discover the circumstances. She recalls the stories he told her about his childhood, interlaced with village folklore and seemingly endless civil strife. There are two stories at the heart of the book. One is about a tiger who escapes a zoo during World War II and is befriended by a deaf-mute who is viciously abused by her husband. The other is about the Deathless Man, a friend, if you can call him that, of the grandfather, who cannot die himself but can predict the death of others.
This is one of the most beautifully written books I've read in ages, with achingly gorgeous language and a piercingly vivid sense of place, although the reader is (quite deliberately?) never told precisely where we are. The different stories are riveting in themselves, but I had trouble making them cohere. The author seems to have made a conscious choice not to explain to the reader. That is fine, because I dislike explanation, but this kind of nonlinear narrative structure makes it hard for my aging brain to remember stuff, so at times of the novel where there was a factual revelation, it wasn't always for me revelatory. I think this novel needs a re-read, and it can easily stand up to one, because it is beautiful, and full of story.