First-time novelist Tea Obreht's book The Tiger's Wife, a surreal, seductive meander through recent history in the Balkans, has turned the 25-year-old into the latest literary superstar after she was crowned the youngest winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Obreht, who speaks English as a second language, was an outside choice for the award for women's writing, the most prestigious in fiction alongside the Man Booker. Pundits had named the Canadian author Emma Donoghue the prize's favourite for Room, her chilling account of a boy and mother locked in a bedroom. The judging chairwoman, author and broadcaster Bettany Hughes, said the decision to recognise Obreht with the £30,000 ($60,050) award was "brave", revealing that it was not a unanimous decision.
"There's something special about the book, as it changed the way the judges looked at the world, which is really quite extraordinary," she said. "The Balkans really is a territory which flashes past many people's lives very quickly but this book gives us an intimate understanding of the place."
Obreht's story is as extraordinary as her novel's. She lived in Belgrade until she was 7. Her family then moved to Cyprus, Cairo and the United States, and she began writing the novel, the story of a doctor coping with her grandfather's death, after graduating from the University of Southern California.
Obreht spent three years writing the work and is working on her second novel.