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Review: ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ author Téa Obreht is back with ‘magical’ ‘The Morningside’

Jenny Shank | (TNS) Star Tribune

Once upon a future time, in a world of coastal inundation and raging wildfires, a refugee girl named Silvia and her mother come to live in the Morningside.

A dilapidated high-rise in the remnants of a sunken metropolis, Island City, it’s where they meet Ena, their only surviving relative from “Back Home.” Ena hints that the woman who occupies the penthouse with her enormous black dogs has the power to create shapeshifters. Silvia suspects the woman is a “Vila,” a sort of enchantress, but seeks verification before revealing this to her skeptical mother. So begins Téa Obreht’s captivating third novel “The Morningside.”

Silvia is the “tallest 11-year-old you’ve ever seen: gangly, shapeless” and her mother is little, “like a fairy person.” Silvia’s mother has forbidden her to speak their native language and she never “volunteered intelligence of any kind.”

The citizens of Island City hunt for news from online forums and a pirate radio station called the Drowned City Dispatch, limited by “Posterity Measures” to a meager diet. Ena has worked as The Morningside’s superintendent for years, and since Silvia has no luck enrolling in school, she begins to help Ena with her tasks. Much of the building is empty, save for a few wealthy old “janglers,” what Ena calls “the kind of person who wore all their jewelry at once.”

Silvia is intensely curious, especially about details from their past that her mother hides and the nature of the Vila’s abilities. But she’s cautious too, concealing talismans around the building as protection against calamity. One day, Silvia meets a bold girl named Mila, “unafraid, because she had no sense of a world beneath the world. Everything to her was as it was on its face.” Mila prods Silvia on her quest for discovery.

Try to read 10 pages of this book and resist its fairy dust. This story sinks the reader into its dreamlike world as surely as the Morningside subsides into the island it occupies. With an intrepid young protagonist rambling through a formerly luxurious building, this novel blends the appeal of “Eloise” and “Harriet the Spy,” the ancient pull of folklore and prescient magic similar to the sort that animated Mohsin Hamid’s fantastic “Exit West.” In this tossed-up world, adults hide secrets that Silvia is determined to uncover.

Obreht is a pure, natural storyteller with a direct hotline to the collective unconsciousness. She blends humor and tragedy, warmth and grit, mystery and magic, constructing her plot out of human curiosity and connection. She writes like she belongs to some lineage of storytellers who entertained around campfires, with such surefootedness that a reader knows all the odd elements and striking characters she introduces will weave together into a haunting and meaningful tale.

With reality growing uncannier by the day, we need a novelist like Obreht who can imagine the fortune of our species in a way that feels authentic. In the world she envisions, there is loss, but beauty remains. As soaring cranes nest in rooftop water towers, hope for human connection endures among the scattered miscellany of people who’ve managed to survive.

____

The Morningside

By: Téa Obreht.

Publisher: Random House, 287 pages, $29.

©2024 StarTribune. Visit at startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Source: Berkshire mont

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