Waking Lions

by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Other authorsSondra Silverston (Translator.)
Book, 2017



Call number




New York, NY Little, Brown and Company, 2017


After neurosurgeon Eitan Green hits and kills an African migrant while driving on a deserted road late at night, the victim's wife tracks him down and confronts him the next day, and her price for silence shatters his safe existence.

User reviews

LibraryThing member nancyadair
While driving in the desert at night, distracted by the most beautiful moon he has ever seen, Dr. Eitan Green hits a man. A brain surgeon, he knows the man will not live. He makes the decision to drive on, leaving the dying man. He won't risk his career by reporting the accident.

He does not know
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he left behind a clue or that the dying man's wife Sirkit witnessed the accident. She blackmails the doctor: he will spend his nights at a makeshift clinic caring for her fellow Eritrean refugees.

A man who prefers to live in order, who shuns the blood and sh*t of human frailty, the doctor is thrust into the dirty, ugly side of life. But as he works with the tall, proud woman, he comes to admire her skill and to secretly lust for her.

Dr. Green's wife is a detective on the case of the hit-and-run victim. She struggles with her husband's absence, sure he is not cheating on her, yet sensing something is not right.

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, beautifully translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston, is a remarkable novel that probes the complexity of our moral choices. People do bad things or good things, for bad reasons or good ones, culminating in earned or unearned outcomes. It is about power shifts, the prejudice between Israelis, Bedouins, and African Eritreans, the refugee experience, the mystery of never really knowing one another, and how the privileged class can turn away from the uncomfortable and live in a sterile world of their own making.

The story is told by an omniscient narrator who knows the thoughts of the characters, without dialogue. Twists create an unexpectedly propulsive, action, complication.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
Eitan Green is a doctor who has been relegated to a hospital in the hinterlands after he attempted to blow the whistle on a superior who was taking bribes. His wife Liat is a police detective. One evening after a long day at work, Eitan goes for a drive in the desert, where he accidentally hits a
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man who appears to be an Eritrean emigrant. Eitan examines him and sees that there is no way he will survive more than a short time. He fears that if he reports the incident he will face criminal consequences including prison. So he leaves the man and goes home to his wife and young children as if nothing had happened.

The next morning when he is home alone (while his wife Liat at the police station is beginning an investigation of a hit and run incident which killed a man in the desert), the doorbell rings. The Eritrean woman standing there has his wallet which he unknowingly had lost at the accident site. Worse she witnessed the whole thing. She is willing to remain silent, but for a price. Not money, however. Instead, she requires that he provide medical care to the emigrants refugees who pass through or who reside in the area. She requires him to spend several hours or as long as necessary every night in an abandoned building they turn into a makeshift clinic caring for people who feel they cannot go to a hospital but who desparately need care.

A nightmare begins for Eitan. He is now at the Eritrean woman's beck and call. He has to lie to his employer at the hospital, he has to lie to his wife, he has to steal medical supplies from the hospital for the clinic. He is overworked, exhausted, stressed out, unable to keep his lies straight, and constantly on edge. Then it gets worse. It turns out that the man killed in the accident was a drug smuggler, and the package he was to deliver to the dealers went missing. The drug lords assume that whoever hit the man took the drugs. Now, in addition to his wife searching for the hit and run driver, the drug lords are after him too.

Despite its thriller plot, this novel sometimes moves slowly and is not particularly a page turner. There is a lot of angst, and it has been described as a "moral thriller." Overall I liked it.

3 stars
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LibraryThing member jtck121166
Bought on the strength of a trusted magazine book review, and yes, there are definitely strengths here: interesting insights into an unusual setting - society in a part of the world unknown to me; sympathetic characters; compelling plot. But, I think, suffers from indulgent editing: at least one
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other reviewer here mentions 'slow in places' or similar. As in Wagner, there are, shall we say, longeurs. Not as in Wagner though, such longeurs are superfluous and, worse, detract from the experience of reading the novel. Lose the various meditative ruminations throughout, i.e. cut by about a third, then we're safely into 4 stars, possibly touching on five.
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LibraryThing member Loried
I found this book to be an interesting read. It was a nice change of pace to read a book based in Israel and to learn a little about contemporary culture there. The book had universal themes, but with an Israeli twist; on one hand, the issue of someone hitting a pedestrian by accident and choosing
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not to report the incident, on the other, issues of refugees and racism. There was a lot of tension for the reader about what would happen, making the book difficult to put down. There were ethical issues galore, and plenty that could be discussed in a book discussion group. I particularly liked the twist at the end of the book. I would be happy to read another book by the author.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
Excellent book but such a bad translation. Considering how many people are fluent in both Hebrew and English a better translation would have been possible. Interesting moral issues.
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
There is a snippet of a review, quoted on the cover of this book, that states "Gripping...twists and turns like a thriller". This led me to expect the book to be something it manifestly wasn't - ie fast moving. Everything happens very slowly and deliberately and is accompanied by much analysis and
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snippets of back-story. Luckily the writing is intelligent, pleasantly tactile, really high quality. I didn't greatly miss the roller-coaster ride. It was more of a cerebral experience.
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LibraryThing member maimonedes
The setting of this novel is the city of Beersheba - the upscale suburb of Omer and the desert margins to its south; but much of the action takes place in the minds of its main protagonists. This is perhaps not surprising, as the author, whose second novel this is, as well as being an award-winning
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scriptwriter, is also trained as a clinical psychologist.

Eitan, a brain surgeon, has just moved to Omer with his policewoman wife Liat and two young children. He has been transferred to a Beersheba hospital following a dispute with his head of department in Tel Aviv. Driving his SUV at night on a desert road, trying to unwind after a long session in surgery, he hits an Eritrean immigrant and injures him fatally. Eitan, knowing that there is no chance that the man he has run over can survive his injuries, and with a panicked instinct for self-preservation, drives off and returns home. However, his victim’s wife has seen the accident, and shows up at Eitan’s home the next morning with his wallet, that he had dropped at the scene. With the hold she has over him, Sirkit forces Eitan into a relationship with her and the community of illegal immigrants trying to survive in the shadows of Israeli society.

This is essentially a story about the psychology of prejudice and discrimination; about how people who live on the margins of society are seen as less than people; how they are perceived as an undifferentiated group, all sharing the identical attributes, and treated accordingly. Eitan is forced to see them - in particular the woman on whose good will his future now depends - as individuals. An unlikely love triangle develops - between Eitan, his wife and the Eritrean woman - but in this novel it plays out only in the minds of the three protagonists.

The continuous exposure of the inner lives of the protagonists is exhaustive, and creates an intensity and tension to the unfolding of the plot. Eitan is a very honest man whose exile to Beersheba came about because of his refusal to countenance the less-than-honest behaviour of his Tel Aviv boss. This magnifies the guilt he feels about the hit-and-run incident with which the novel opens and about his developing feelings for Sirkit. Liat, who has learned to trust in someone only after a long and cautious trial, fights hard against the suspicions that her husband’s increasingly erratic behaviour is arousing in her. Sirkit, who has always known that the best chance of survival comes from being submissive, keeping her eyes averted from others’ gaze, is traumatised by her new self-assertiveness. The problem - if there is one - is that it is not just the principal protagonists who are subject to this analytical treatment. The details we learn about the childhood and background of several bit-players are just Too Much Information. The author’s attempt to explore in this way the mindset of Bedouin Arabs and the prejudices against them, as another marginalised part of Israeli society, is just a distraction from her main theme, and falls short.

The novel, originally written in Hebrew and masterfully translated, is unself-conscious about its Israeli/Jewish setting. Although the details are specific to Israel - the illegal immigrants are Eritreans who have made it on foot from the Horn of Africa, surviving the crossing of the Sinai with unscrupulous Bedouin people-smugglers - it could be taking place anywhere in the world. The prejudices it explores are not in this case racial - Israel is after all a multi-racial society - but are the prejudices and fears of society in relation to uninvited newcomers, which obstruct any normal tendency to know or empathise with them as people. It has much relevance for the situation that has developed in Europe over the last few years, where these same prejudices undoubtedly have played a part in fuelling populist anti-immigrant sentiment. The novel is gripping and credible, both at the level of the personal relationships between the main characters, and also at the level of the societal interactions within which these relationships are set.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
I found the beginning of this book making me very uncomfortable. That was not because of the hit and run accident that began the book, but it was more about Dr. Eitan Green's forced relationship to a group of poor, black, and sickly Eritrean immigrants to Israel. Eitan was a successful, married
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neurosurgeon and father of two boys. The character who stood out the most was a sort of a mysterious Eritrean woman named Sirkit whom we learn more about as the story advances. Extreme inequality always makes me uncomfortable, but this book set this contemporary Israeli social problem directly in front of me.

Not only did I have to deal with a doctor facing a moral dilemma in a repugnant manner, but I also had to face his attraction to a woman with whom he should have had no contact as well as to deal with his uncompromising arrogance. I had to keep telling myself that this was only a story in order to continue reading it!

This book was ultimately about all about lies and race. So many despicable and poor choices were made by the characters! The book hit a turning point for me about 90% of the way through it, when I had to keep turning the pages to see what would happen. Know as you read this long, involved story, that all is not as it seems at first. Then come along for the ride as I ended up feeling that this was a pretty good novel after all!

There is a long paragraph within this novel which gives voice to the idea of trying not to feel superior to a group of “others” and yet knowing guilt just because of that feeling. It was a relief to me learning before reading this novel that the author has worked for the Israel civil rights movement.
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LibraryThing member mel.davidoff
The characters are fascinatingly human. The book truly highlights the depths people can descend to when desperate, as well as the depths people can descend to when powered by greed. The language is sparse and blunt, which matches the material.

Original language



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