Review | Waking Lions, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

30363791Dr. Eitan Green has the perfect life, a neurosurgeon with a wife and two children, until he accidentally runs over an Eritrean migrant in his car. The migrant’s wife, Sirkit, finds his driver’s license near the body, and goes to Eitan’s house to demand reparation. While Eitan is prepared to offer money, what Sirkit actually wants is for him to set up a clinic for the refugee community and provide free medical care. There is the added danger of the violence faced by the refugees, as well as Eitan’s wife Liat being the detective in charge of tracking down the driver in the hit and run.

Waking Lions is a powerful story about race and privilege and what it means to ‘do the right thing.’ I like the characterizations of Eitan and Sirkit, and the development of their relationship, from the wariness of the initial blackmail to the burgeoning respect as they begin to work together to provide medical care. Liat was an interesting character, and I wish her character had been developed more, as her naivete over her husband’s role in the hit and run stretched credulity after a while, especially given her purported ‘gift for reading people.’

The story starts off a bit slow, and it takes a while for the story to get going, but it’s worth plowing through. And Sirkit’s character in particular is slowly revealed as much more complex than simply a grieving widow who wants to help her community, and I especially liked how the truth of her relationship with her husband was revealed over time.

Waking Lions is a dense novel about some important issues, and provides a glimpse into a world I have rarely encountered in fiction.I like the insight the book provides into the lives of refugee communities in Israel, and the struggles they face even just to survive. It’s slow and introspective, an intimate story about broad political topics, and it challenges expectations.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.