Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston
Published by Pushkin Press, 2016
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Combining a thriller-esque setup with incisive commentary on contemporary Israeli society, Waking Lions should appeal to genre enthusiasts and literary fiction fans alike.
With a successful career, a wife in the police force, and two young sons at home, Dr Eitan Green appears to have it all. But his life comes crashing down around him when, speeding along a desert road one night, he hits and kills an African migrant. Though he chooses to flee the scene, the dead man’s wife comes knocking at Eitan’s door the following morning. With evidence of his crime and an unexpected ultimatum, this enigmatic woman will draw Eitan into an even greater web of secrets and lies.
Though the pace is much slower and more ruminative than a typical thriller, there are several revelations along the way that I don’t want to risk spoiling. Suffice to say that throughout the narrative, Eitan will be forced to confront not only the reality of taking someone’s life, but his own long-held racial prejudices, and the strength of his commitment to his family.
Gundar-Goshen does a fantastic job of fleshing out her characters. None of them are wholly good or bad; each of them existing within a complex, moral grey area that highlights the intersection between action and motivation. As in her novel, Liar, she also looks at the potential ripple effects of a single lie throughout several people’s lives, and asks where we should draw the line on culpability. There is also clear critique of the systems that exist to protect those already within them, and exclude those without.
I already mentioned the book’s slower pace, and while it’s true this allows for greater exploration of the book’s characters and themes, I must admit to thinking the mid-section lagged a little at times. My attention was consistently held (and I read its 400-odd pages in just a few sittings), but I did think it detracted somewhat from the sense of drive and tension that had been so well established in the early chapters. Thankfully, the book hits its stride again as we move towards the climax.
All that said, this is another intelligent, layered, and compelling read that cements Gundar-Goshen’s place among my favourite literary thriller writers.
You can pick up a copy of Waking Lions by clicking here.