Category Archives: Israeli authors

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

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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 

 

Snapshot December 2016

I can’t believe I let December 1, 2016 come and go without marking it with a snapshot of  what I’m reading, thinking about reading, buying. It got to almost half way through the month before I even realised I had forgotten. So let me do a quick re-wind…..

Reading

After the dreary experience of  Little Women I needed a complete change of pace and subject.  Waking Lions by  the Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen was certainly far removed from the domestic world of Alcott – this is a novel set in Israel in which a doctor accidentally kills a man in a hit and run accident – and is then blackmailed for his actions. It had a lot of promise early on but got bogged down too much in detail.

rich-in-asiaCome December 1, my attention had turned back to the Booker prize project. I picked up The Conservationist by Nadime Gordiver about which I had heard good things. The fact that it’s set in South Africa was another plus point. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood but it didn’t do much for me – I found the untagged dialogue confusing and I’m not really sure where the book is going. So I put it to one side and picked up How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid instead. It was just the change I needed with its bold, humorous narrator who speaks directly to his main character and mocks the culture of self help books. Quite delicious.

Buying

As you’d expect at this time of the year, I’ve been very active with the book purchases. I try to get everyone in the family a book of some description – this year my mum is getting Our Souls at Night By Kent Haruf and Brooklyn by Colm Toibin; my husband is going to be opening a veritable mini library which includes Keeping On Keeping On, the latest collection of memoirs  by Alan Bennett. This is certain to be a hit because it’s a follow on from Writing Home and Untold Stories, both of which had him laughing out loud at times. My dad is getting the Little Hummingbird Cafe cookery book – though he has hundreds of cake recipes in his repertoire having been a professional baker for 40 years he still likes to see what other people create and to have a go himself.

Of course, having to go shopping on line for other people does mean I get tempted myself. It doesn’t help that so many ‘best of’ lists come out around now. I tried to be judicious knowing that I will be unwrapping some book gifts on Dec 25 and the fact my TBR has just jumped over 200. But I still succumbed to Kindle versions of The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney, Tender is the Night by F. Scott. Fitzgerald (hope I like it more than Great Gatsby) and A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale (I didn’t care for his most recent novel A Place Called Winter but still think he deserves another go).

Watching

I feel rather adrift at the moment. No more episodes of The Crown which was a stupendous series on Netflix. No more riveting episodes of The Missing. No more Great British Bake Off.  I’ve been trying to like the BBC new series Rillington about the mass murderer Reginald Christie but its not a patch on the film 10 Rillington Place with Richard Attenborough. Fortunately we have Wolf Hall (the adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s award winning novels about Thomas Cromwell) to keep our spirits alive….

Snapshot November 2016

Another chapter in my reading year in which I try to capture a picture of what I’m reading, thinking about reading, buying on Nov 1, 2016.

Reading

Most of my reading at the moment is for the course on children’s literature that I foolishly decided to embark upon. It’s a level 3 (equivalent to third year university) delivered via the Open University. It’s my final module on a BA Honours Lit course I started about 12 years ago I think, persuaded by a friend who heard I had an idea for a non fiction book and recommended I sharpened up the academic research skills first. I tossed about the idea of history but got swayed by my other love of literature. It was meant for me to be ‘fun’ – I already have a lit degree so why would I need another one???  But now the end is in sight.

I finished Treasure Island by R. L Stevenson last week and now am ploughing through Little Women by L.M.Alcott and absolutely hating it. I know it’s considered a classic but it’s so full of saccharine I feel an urgent need to visit the dentist every time I read a chapter. And it’s so long! Little Women (which in America is marketed as part 1 with part 2 called Good Wives) comes in at 470 of densely typed pages. Give me strength while I grit my teeth.

wakinglionsBy way of an antidote I am also crawling my way through Waking Lions by the Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. It’s not the fault of the book – just my lack of time.  It’s quite an intriguing story which looks at how the decisions we make on the spur of the moment can have long term repercussions. In this case, the decision is made by a surgeon who accidentally runs over a man on the road. Should he leave the injured man who is clearly on the path to death or should he summon help. He chooses the former. But then the victim’s widow turns up at the door intent on a very unusual form of blackmail.

Buying

lietreeRather a lot of new purchases recently. One by Sarah Crossan, a verse novel about conjoined twins which won the CILIP Carnegie Medal – an annual award for children’s fiction. Also purchased is another contender for the medal, The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge which won the Costa Book of the Year 2015. It’s described as “deliciously creepy novel”. Both of these were bought all in the interests of research you understand for my children’s literature course (what do you mean you don’t believe me!). I succumbed to an offer at the bookshop and bought The Vegetarian by Han Kang, The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh and The Glorious Heresies by Lisa Mcinnerney which won the  Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016.

Watching

The BBC did a short series with Andrew Marr looking at three different genres of books: detective fiction; fantasy epics and spy stories. I’m part way through the one on detective fiction where he argues that these follow a set of “rules”. See more about this series at the Open University web page

Listening

After my recent disappointment (described here) with my first experience of Marjorie Allingham’s detective fiction, Karen at kaggsysrambling recommended another of her titles – The Tiger in the Smoke. I’ve managed to get an audio version of this. Early days yet but the characterisation at least feels more authentic than in the other title I tried. I’m also enjoying the flavour it gives of post war Britain. Apparently J. K. Rowling has described this as her favorite crime novel

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

Amanlies dreamingA Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar has to be the most unusual book I’ve read all year. If it wasn’t for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize I probably wouldn’t have come across it let alone read it, and would therefore have missed a bold, energetic and innovative work of fiction.

Tidar delivers a blend of a pulp-noir tale of seamy city streets, gumshoes and lowlifes with Holocaust fiction and an alternative history of 1930’s Europe. It’s a risky mixture; one that shouldn’t work but, oddly, does.

The scenario imagines that Hitler’s rise to power has been halted and Germany has become a communist state. Most of the leading members of the Nazi party have fled overseas;  many of them are now living in London. “Wolf” (the meaning of the name “Adolf”) is among them; living in straightened circumstances as a private detective. Hired by a beautiful Jewish woman to track down her sister, he sets about his task; bending the ears of anyone who will listen to his rabid antisemitic and extreme views. During his investigation he visits brothels and sado-masochistic clubs; gets beaten up several times; discovers a CIA plot to overthrow the German government and becomes a suspect in a Jack the Ripper style series of prostitute murders. Though he bumps into a few of his former chums and rubs shoulders with the Mitford sisters and Oswald Mosley, “Wolf” is a shadow of his former self.

It was pitiful, watching him hobble along, this once-great man, this leader of men, now like a decommissioned solider, blinded by gas, a beggar man, a sleepwalker almost.

This is however only part of the novel. Woven among the London section is the story of Shomer Aleichem, the dreaming man of the title. Before the war he was a writer of lurid pulp fiction. Now he is a prisoner at Auschwitz, using his dreams to put a barrier between him and the nightmare of his situation. His dreams are of Hitler as a detective …

 

These sections in which Shomer lies on his bed dreaming, give the book a thoughtful, moral aspect which nicely counteracts the fast, page turning delivery of the pulp mystery. Just as the narrative threatens to become ludicrous, Tidhar cleverly pulls away and reminds readers that there is real suffering in the world.

In many ways this is a playful novel. There are some ‘in jokes’ dotted around the text including one scene in which “Wolf” looks upon the London skyline and sees the future…..

Wolf saw the city as he had never seen it, rising before him like a metropolis dreamed of by Fritz lang: huge shining buildings rose amid the squalor of old London. By London Bridge, a shard of glass taller than the pyramids pieced the sky. From the city of London there rose a phoenix egg of metal and glass, and a giant wheel spun and spun on the south bank of the Thames like a mandala.

But Tidhar is also making a more serious point. By using real-world references (for those not familiar with London, the giant wheel is of course the London Eye) and actual figures like Primo Levi and Oswald Mosely’s blackshirted supporters) we’re left with the impression this fictional world isn’t totally out of the realms of possibility.

End notes

Lavie Tidhar was born in Israel but has lived in many parts of the world including Laos and South Africa. He currently lives in London. His previous novels have been in the science fiction, fantasy genres. A Man Lies Dreaming was published in 2015 by Hodder and Stoughton

 

 

 

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