Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Review published on April 19, 2016.

In short, the plot of this intelligent Israeli novel is that doctor Eitan, living in Beersheba with wife Liat a policewoman and two sons, while de-stressing over his new job, runs over an illegal – an Eritrean? – and leaves him to die. Sirkit his wife tracks him down and demands he pays the price. It turns out this is to run a medical clinic for other illegal immigrants. This will require a complicated circle of deception and theft with lies to his wife and employers. Both have implications for these relationships which then unravel, as each step leads to another. And the implications of what he is doing become clearer.

A seemingly simple story, but when wrapped around the depth of personal relationships presented in interlocked circles of complexity we are left with a profound and truly exceptional novel of love, marriage and coping in an increasingly complex world that does not easily provide what one wants or often hopes for. A seemingly simple action broadens into a huge and painful reality that places the things that Eitan values most at risk. But the way he deals with the threat, shows he is a different man to the one he thought and that too will increase the problems.

Eitan and Liat live within a real world – normality and crime, different Israeli communities and of course illegal immigrants trying to live under the radar at the same time as being exploited. This latter theme makes the novel immensely topical and of wider than Israeli impact – because ”illegals” are of course people first and foremost. Good and bad, strong and weak, but people pressed by their circumstances.

I found this a truly impressive novel as Gundar-Goshen melds the killing plot line through the simple activities of an ordinary family, dealing with the issues of awareness, loyalty and love within marriage. She then, almost seamlessly, deepens both our awareness of the couple, their marriage and the political and social background of the place and all the peoples involved. What happens is not pleasant, she never pulls her punches, but the approach is understanding throughout. People are not perfect.

My best read so far this year – and it is a strong year already. But book groups would probably struggle to stop talking through the multiple issues!

Hilary White
Personal 5
Group 5

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
Pushkin 9781782271567 hbk Mar 2016

[Ed: I made it half way through this book before I had to move on – unwillingly – to another project and can thoroughly endorse Hilary’s review.]

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