Waking lions: blackmail and a life-changing crash [review]

waking-lions-collage_edited-1

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.

Footnotes

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 

 

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on January 5, 2017, in Book Reviews, Israeli authors, world literature and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. It does sound as if there’s rather a lot going on here, perhaps too much for one book to contain.

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  2. Ooh, I liked it. I think of it very much as a book that doesn’t care whether you like it or not, which is an unusual attitude for a writer to take given the importance of marketing to literary careers—it’s definitely something I can respect. This is my review of it: https://ellethinks.wordpress.com/2016/08/14/waking-lions-by-ayelet-gundar-goshen/

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  3. I think books with moral dilemmas are the best kind of all… I think that’s why I like Graham Greene so much. But restraint, yes, there are too many books these days that are too long for themselves. It’s as if editors can’t say to the author, ‘yes, good stuff, use that bit and that bit in your next book not this one’….

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  4. Sounds interesting, I really must add this to my tbr. I think that Pushkin press are really producing some really useful work

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  5. Too bad. I like books w/a moral dilemma too. It’s a way of dragging you in.

    Liked by 1 person

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