For me (and thousands of others), it’s not always easy being a Jets fan. Week in and week out, it’s virtually impossible to predict how they will perform. While this can make for exciting, come-from-behind wins, it can also be devastating. This unpredictability, plus the melancholy of being a Jets fan far from home probably explains why I’ve been thinking about Steve Almond’s quest for a sports bar in which to watch his beloved, and often unsuccessful, Oakland Raiders every Sunday. Now that I’m living in Massachusetts, I find myself doing the same thing: slouching on hard wooden stools, trying to keep my outbursts to a whisper because, for the most part, everyone around me hates—I mean, hates—the Jets. They may wonder why the one TV in the corner even has a game on that isn’t the Patriots. This is New England, after all.
Here at The Common we think a lot about “place,” but that’s not quite the same as thinking about where you’re from, something Sonya Chung recently mulled over in her column for “In House.” I find myself thinking about that topic pretty often, ever since moving to Western Massachusetts for graduate school two years ago. Growing up in New Jersey, twenty-five miles outside of Manhattan, New York City cast a long shadow. “The city” was as much a part of my identity as summer trips down the shore. My father, along with a majority of people in my town, commuted to work in the city every day. He would come home with his coat smelling distinctly like an NJ Transit train car: part newsprint, part stale air.
For most of us, the war and subsequent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s conjures memories of shaky news footage and the echoes of faraway landmine explosions. For the narrator of The Tiger’s Wife, a young doctor who grew up during the seemingly endless violence, those years were her childhood, defined not by what was lost, but by the simple ritual she shared with her grandfather: visiting the tiger at the zoo.
Author Téa Obreht infuses her first novel with everydayness, what people who haven’t lived through a war might call survival. The novel opens in the present with the news of Natalia’s grandfather’s sudden death. On her way to an aid mission at an orphanage across the border, Natalia receives a page from her grandmother with the news, and an accusation: “He was going to meet you.” But Natalia hadn’t heard from him and didn’t know anything about the supposed plan to meet, so the news comes as a double loss—grief, confusion, and a sense of betrayal. Where was her grandfather going and why did he lie?