Waking Lions (Book Review)

Waking Lions was published in 2014 by Israeli writer, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. It was translated into English is 2016, and I highly recommend it. Gundar-Goshen is a wonderful writer, her words are like a nightmarish delicacy you don’t necessarily want to read, but have to finish. Each paragraph more artful than the one before, her words push you to look at real life, and how real people hold up in the face of it. The book reminds us that we never know how we will stand up in a situation until we are in it, and it’s not always the way we always hoped we would handle it.

Set in Israel, the book begins by introducing Eitan, a neuroscientist, husband and father of two. One night he is driving in the darkness after a late nigh shift, and hits an man. He stops his car to check on the dying man, and sees that he is an Eritrean refugee. After a few minutes of attempting to help the man, he sees that the situation is hopeless and drives off, hoping to escape blame. He figures that he can’t save the Eritrean’s life, so he might as well save his.

Eitan rationalizes this decision to himself later on, as the thought of what he has done haunts him. He tells himself that people would be horrified to find out what he did, but that those same people who pretend to care do not really care.

“As if they weren’t killing Eritreans left and right. After all, each one of them could save the life of a starving African if they contributed only a fraction of their monthly earnings… everyone hits and runs, but he’d been caught,” Eitan thinks.-

This is not the end of Eitan’s story, however. The next day, the wife of the Eritrean man he has killed shows up at his front door step, and threatens to turn him in if he does not do what she says. This begins a complicated and dangerous relationship with emotions frequently ranging from love to hatred. Eitan is brought into the web of a new life, interacting with the refugee community in secret every night. He struggles with himself over how he reacts.

“What unphotogenic poverty… The poverty in the pictures he took in Africa [while touring] pierced the heart like a well-sharpened arrow. There was a splendid meagerness in the pictures he took in Africa. And here: Eight mattresses. A portable burner. Several tablespoons. A few plates.”

This book is brings up many unresolved questions we have as a society, and the intimate way that author Gundar-Goshen prods the reader to think deeply is worth attention.

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