Waking lions: blackmail and a life-changing crash [review]
Posted by BookerTalk
I do love books that depict characters caught in a moral dilemma. Which is exactly what I got with Waking Lions by the Israeli novelist Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. How could I not like a novel which begins in this dramatic fashion:
He’s thinking that the moon is the most beautiful he has ever seen when he hits the man.
The ‘he’ in this case is Doctor Eitan Green, a skilled neurosurgeon who has just finished his shift in a backwater of a city. It’s a downgrading for this doctor, the penalty he played for questioning some dubious practices by another surgeon in his previous hospital. Lose your job or leave town was the stark choice with which he was faced. So this is a man who has been hitherto an upright citizen and loving father and husband. It all goes pear-shaped when he takes his SUV out for a fast night time drive in the desert. The man he hits looks unlikely to survive but shouldn’t Eitan call the police and report the accident? He knows he should. But he doesn’t.
It’s the turning point in his life, a decision that will set in motion blackmailing, illicit surgical operations on Eritrean refugees and a potential affair with the victim’s wife. As if this isn’t enough for Eitan to handle, he also finds he has unwittingly stepped into a crime network that deals in violent assaults, rape and murder. Eitan also has problems on the domestic front – his involvement with the Eritreans requires him to lie to his wife from whom he becomes increasingly distant.
The strong opening and powerful first half the book are sadly not sustained. Gundar-Goshen shifts her focus away from the accident and its repercussions to medicate on a variety of topics, from poverty and international politics to domestic life and privilege. The plot is of secondary interest it seems to the author but I found these digressions irritating – if felt like the author was simply dragging out the story by throwing in as many themes as possible. Then towards the end of the novel we get taken back to more of the police thriller type story and the question of whether Eitan will be unmasked. It makes for a frustrating read because its clear that Gundar-Goshen is a talented writer. If she’d restrained herself on the thematic front.
The Book: Waking Lions was first published in Hebrew in 2014. Translation into English is by Sondra Silverston
Publisher: Pushkin Press 2016
The Author: Waking Lions is the second novel by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen who was born in Israel. She also writes film scripts.
Why I read this: I’ve never read any author from Israel previously so when this became available on NetGalley it seemed the perfect opportunity to rectify that.
Other reviews: For an alternative perspective on Waking Lions, take a look at Lizzy’s post here