‘Waking Lions’ Reflects on Immigrants and Moral Choices
Waking Lions By Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Translated by Sondra Silverston (Little, Brown & Co., 341 pp. $26)
There are two distinct parts to Waking Lions by Israeli novelist Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. In the first part, Dr. Eitan Green, an Israeli neurosurgeon, inadvertently kills a black Eritrean immigrant near Beersheba during a late-night joy ride and then fails to report the car accident.
“He was thinking that the moon was the most beautiful he had ever seen when he hit the man,” Gundar-Goshen writes. And so begins a multilayered story that involves an unlikely trio: the negligent surgeon who must contend with questions of guilt and morality that threaten his family and career; the victim’s elegant and resourceful widow, Sirkit; and the neurosurgeon’s loving wife, Liat Green, a detective assigned to investigate the hit-and-run.
Complications arrive the day after the accident, when Sirkit shows up at Eitan’s door with his wallet, which he dropped while determining that the victim, his skull split in two, could not survive. Eitan offers Sirkit money, which she accepts, but she also blackmails him into setting up an after-hours clinic to treat illegal immigrants. Eitan’s life quickly becomes a nightmare of misdirection and lies. His marriage and loving relationship with his children suffer as the cover-up unfolds. How far can he go to keep his actions a secret from his wife? From his superiors? And what makes a good person behave so inappropriately?
Here the author relies on her training as a clinical psychologist to examine underlying threads in the lives of the three complex main characters. At the same time, she exposes ugly racial prejudices and class divides in Israeli society.
In choosing Waking Lions as the book’s title, the author may be alluding to an African folk proverb that says that once a lion is awakened and tastes human flesh, it will never eat anything else again. Here the woken lion is Sirkit.
As for Eitan, he “had never lied to Liat like that, and it both relieved and frightened him that it was so easy.” But each time he lies to her it becomes less convincing. Meanwhile, Liat is trying to solve the accident and its unexpected aftermath.
If the first part of Waking Lions sets up the moral issues while challenging readers to confront their preconceptions, the second part picks up the pace with a subplot in the wilderness of the Negev involving drugs, a Bedouin crime network, rape, violence and desperate refugees. The mysteries and loose ends are eventually resolved. But the lesson is there for all to see: There is a high price to pay for walking away from a crime.
Stewart Kampel was a longtime editor at The New York Times.