He’s thinking that the moon is the most beautiful he has ever seen when he hits the man.
So begins Waking Lions, Gundar-Goshen’s challenging, morality-questioning second novel.
Driving the SUV is Doctor Eitan Green. He’s just finished a nineteen hour shift at Soroka Hospital, six of which he spent helping to stabilise road traffic accident victims. In the time it takes for him to walk from the hospital ward to his car, he goes from exhausted to adrenaline-fueled. He decides to drive to ‘a particularly challenging SUV track’ he’s read about. Sprinting along, he hits the man.
He looked at the Eritrean again. Blood flowed from his head, staining his collar. If he was lucky, the judge would give him only a few months. But he wouldn’t be able to do surgery anymore. That was for certain. No one would hire a doctor convicted of manslaughter. And then there was the media and Yaheli and Itamar and Liat and his mother and the people he happened to meet on the street.
And the Eritrean kept bleeding as if he were doing it deliberately.
Suddenly he knew he had to go. Now. He couldn’t save the man. At least he’d try to save himself.
However, it’s not going to be as simple as that, of course. Firstly, there’s the problem of the dead man’s wife arriving at his door the following morning, Eitan’s wallet in her hand. Secondly, there’s the police investigation to which Liat Green is assigned; yes, Eitan’s wife is a senior detective in the Israeli police, determined to prove to the misogynists she works with that she’s highly capable. Finally, there’s the deal that Sirkit, the Eritrean’s wife wants from Eitan. It’s a deal that will have serious consequences at work and at home.
To say much more would spoil the novel for the first-time reader, I think. It’s a powerful enough book that it still works if you know the deal Sirkit asks for but I enjoyed discovering it myself and following the consequences of it through to the end.
If you’ve read Gundar-Goshen’s debut, One Night, Markovitch, you’ll find Waking Lions a very different beast (pardon the pun). The setting, the style, the pace are much altered but perfectly woven to create a tense, almost cinematic psychological thriller.
There’s a point in the second half of the novel when the narrator says this about Sirkit:
That one battered Eritrean had called her an angel and one grief-stricken Bedouin had called her a devil, and that both of them were wrong, had to be wrong. Because neither angels nor devils existed. Of that Eitan was convinced. People existed. The woman lying on the mattress only a few meters from him, that woman was a person. She slept. She ate. She urinated. She defecated.
It sums up Gundar-Goshen’s characters; they’re three-dimensional, thinking humans who make mistakes; who are both good and bad in different circumstances. By making the protagonist a doctor married to a detective, she questions our expectations of people. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? What punishment do they deserve and is it always delivered?
Waking Lions isn’t an easy novel to read. There’s no sugar-coating of the effects of Eitan’s deception and it’s all the better for it. This is a sharp, thoughtful, challenging novel. It marks Ayelet Gundar-Goshen out as a very talented writer indeed.
If you like the sound of Waking Lions or One Night, Markovitch come back tomorrow when I have an interview with Ayelet Gundar-Goshen about her work.
Thanks to Pushkin Press for the review copy.