Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

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Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A tense tale of life at the margins of society. A respected Doctor is involved in a hit and run, which drags him into an underworld of as much good as evil, where life is anything but certain. A morality tale without heroes, a stunning read, and one to make you think beyond the confines of the plot.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Pushkin Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781782271567

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If the point of literature - as opposed to the less exalted though just-as-worthwhile forms of writing - is to force you to think about the real world, the political world, the painful life-as-we-know-it world, whilst catching you up in a story about something that never really happened, but, you know, might well have done so…and if you think that matters, then you must read this book.

I often wonder about the value-judgement that trails alongside the word literature as opposed to, say, novels or writing or stories or the gods forfend genre fiction. I often think that literature is a bit like an Academy Lifetime Achievement award, granted only after a period of years and only on sufferance, and usually only if it wasn't that well-loved or well-appreciated or well-acknowledged at the time. I wonder about this, because I like reading stories. Mostly, I don't care about their literary merit. I love Charles Dickens no more nor less than I love Agatha Christie or Terry Pratchett. I love Sholokov for all it's more history and memoir than literature, and Bill Bryson though it's technically neither.

But then, something comes along that makes me think that maybe there is, after all, a difference. Maybe some books count as being something more than just the story-telling and you know it even as you're reading them.

I'm not convinced, but it's a definite maybe.

The book that has provoked this musing is Gundar-Goshen's second novel Waking Lions.

Dr Eitan Green is a good man. We know this. Not only by definition: he is a family man, he is a brain surgeon, he loves his wife and his kids, and supports them all in every way. We know it also by his history. He is currently serving in a hospital in the dust-ridden outpost of Beersheba as informal punishment for daring to threaten his superiors with whistle-blowing on their corruption.

The work is stressful, and one night he decides to relieve his stress by going for a ride in the desert, tearing joyfully up and down the dunes in his SUV under a beautiful moon to the strains of Janis Joplin screaming her heart out.

A thud, a crumple, and in his is wake a dead African migrant.

Almost immediately Dr Eitan Green ceases to be quite such a good man. He drives away.

One decision that will change everything…because he dropped his wallet at the scene, and illegal or not the dead Eritrean had a wife: an intelligent wife.

Sirkit tracks Eitan down and puts a proposition to him. He thinks of paying her off, but what she wants is not money and this draws him into a dark world to which he had never given a moment's thought: a world which threatens everything he knows and loves.

Waking Lions is a surprising book. Suspense normally relies on being led along a path and then having it twist on you. Gundar-Goshen's work does something different. It leads you on a trail into the desert, into a wide open space, where all paths are open but equally all are hidden. There are not paths to twist, because throughout the book, and I mean for the whole of it, right up to the final few pages, there are so many possibilities none of them more likely than any other, none of them less certain, that all you're left with as a reader is the wanting to know… what will he do, what will she do…

…and in the background, where will Liat's path lead her. Liat is Eitan's wife. She is a police officer, and her beat includes the backwater where an Eritrean has been found left for dead. She has her theories. Her detective colleagues have their suspects. But are either of them anywhere near the truth?

This is a novel about secrets and lies and how easy they are to construct. It is about love and the fragile basis on which we build it and the lies we tell to protect it. It is about how little we can know one another, and how maybe, just maybe, sometimes, that might be a good thing.

It is also about the way the world works. Politically. Badly. It is about prejudice and war and poverty and crisis.

It is a feminist novel, without having unflawed female heroines.

It is about pride, and lack of self-esteem. About heritage, and how we corrupt it.

It is about how we relate to our parents, and to our children.

It is about how good comes from bad, and the reverse.

It is, ultimately, about humanity.

All of that wrapped in a drama that is gripping enough if you don't want to think that far into what it all means… but to be honest, I defy you not to respond to the depth.

It took me longer to read than I would normally have expected, but it rewards commitment. The language fits the telling so credit to the translator. It feels to be of the place. Gentle, lyric, tense.

We’re so used to reading about Israel from the outside, maybe we’ll understand more by reading the writers based there. For more Israeli crime fiction Bookbag recommends A Possibility of Violence: An Inspector Avraham Avraham Novel (Inspector Avraham 2) by D A Mishani and Todd Hasak-Lowy (Translator)

Booklists.jpg Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2016.

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Buy Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen at Amazon.com.


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Naomi Neustadter said:

Interested to know the meaning of the title Waking Lions.