‘Waking Lions’ is a contemporary thriller and morality tale

  • Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Little, Brown and Company) 2017. Translated by Sondra Silverston.
  • In 40 words or less: After a long night at work, Dr. Eitan Green decides to run his car in the desert. In the darkness, he hits an Eritrean man, leaving him to die. The repercussions go far beyond one man, his family or community.
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Locale: Beer Sheva, Israel
  • Time: Contemporary
  • Gundar-Goshen’s novel pushes the boundaries of genre and could take place in many countries where refugees illegally cross borders in desperation.

“A writer is like a pickpocket: they want what belongs to others and make it their own. But by doing that they are inevitably caught, not by the police, but by their own story.” Ayelet Gundar-Goshen in a guest post for the blog The ProsenPeople

Ayelet Gundar-Goshen grabs the reader from page one and never lets go. Eitan Green is a rising star neurosurgeon in Tel Aviv when he gets on the wrong side of his mentor and is “exiled” to Beer Sheva, a far less prestigious placement. After a rough night, he decides to take his new SUV for a drive in the desert before going home to his wife Liat, a police detective, and his two sons. The road is dark, empty and wide open – until it’s not. Eitan hits a man, stops and realizes the injuries will be fatal. Recognizing that the man is Eritrean, and likely a refugee, Eitan makes a split second decision that nothing can be done for the man but his life likely will be destroyed if he stays.

Come morning there is a knock at the door. An Eritrean woman is holding Eitan’s wallet, dropped at the scene. Eitan is prepared to pay to keep the secret from the authorities and his wife. The price of silence is far more than money, his medical expertise and time. And so the coverup begins.

Gundar-Goshen’s training in psychology serves her well as she reveals the inner voices of Eitan, Liat, and Sirkit, the victim’s widow, each at different points in the novel. Eitan’s relocation to the desert was due to trying to maintain the moral high ground. Now, he is perpetually juggling, lying to his wife, lying to his colleagues, trying to keep up with the demands of a double life.

Liat, very accomplished but still a woman in a man’s world has to keep proving herself at work. At the same time, she is shouldering almost all the burden at home.  Eitan and Liat have always stood strong together and the changes are very unsettling.

Sirkit is an enigma. Seemingly untouched by grief, she redirects her energy into securing medical help for other refugees under cover of night.  Her story, both past and present, is far more complex.

Waking Lions is built layer upon layer. With each layer, more people and more questions of right and wrong, good and evil, are involved. Intricately interwoven are the deceptions that can destroy a marriage, the vulnerability of refugees, and the exploitative exercise of power. A New York Times notable book in 2017 and recipient of other accolades, this is an ideal read for individuals or groups who wrestle with issues of so prevalent today.

 

 

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Ginny Moon is no ordinary 14 year old girl

  • Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig (Park Row Books) 2017
  • In 40 words or less: Day by day, Ginny reveals the challenges of an autistic teen trying to become a part of a Forever Family after years in foster care. It’s far from easy and her loyalties and her past stand in the way.
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Locale: United States
  • Time: Contemporary
  • Benjamin Ludwig brings first-hand experience to telling Ginny’s story as the adoptive parent of an autistic young woman. Seeing the story through Ginny’s eyes gives the reader a rare view into the daily life of a teen on the autistic spectrum and the demands placed on parents, teachers, and all involved in helping her navigate the world.

I am standing in front of the refrigerator listening. I hear nothing. In the refrigerator there are grapes and milk. There are a lot of other things too but grapes and milk are what I need. I need to have nine grapes to start my breakfast and a glass of human milk but it’s a rule that We do not open the refrigerator. And We ask for food when we’re hungry.

Until she was nine, Ginny lived with her Birth Mother Gloria and Donald in an apartment. When Donald would get angry, Ginny would hide and take Baby Doll with her to be safe. And then the police came and took Ginny away, leaving Baby Doll in a suitcase under the bed. Ginny has been desperate to reunite with Baby Doll ever since.

Ginny is literal, methodical, persistent, and sometimes sneaky. Despite being forbidden to use the internet, she plots ways to search for Gloria so she can find Baby Doll. Being a teenager and someone who processes information differently, Ginny doesn’t always understand the repercussions of her actions. Dealing with the consequences of Ginny’s choices puts serious strains on her Forever Parents while they are also preparing for the birth of a baby.

A wonderful look into Ginny’s world is her involvement in Special Olympics basketball. Seeing the experience through Ginny’s eyes reveals the community involvement, the commitment of her Forever Dad, peer volunteer mentorship and the pride that comes from participating on a team.

I knew little about Ginny Moon before I dug into it. I had heard it was very different, and it is that. I found myself rooting for the Moon family, hoping that Ginny can find her place before her actions inflict damage beyond repair.

Ginny Moon is far more than an engaging novel. Ludwig is so careful and loving in “speaking” Ginny’s thoughts that a reader with little exposure to people on the autism spectrum can get a peek into that world. By including Ginny’s classmates and Special Olympics teammates he also points out that each person with disabilities or special needs is different, just like everyone else. In the same way people shouldn’t be pigeonholed, this book should be read for the unique creation it is.

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Ending the book review hiatus

hiatus (noun) hī-ā-tus

According to Merriam Webster, a hiatus is “an interruption in time or continuity breakespecially a period when something (such as a program or activity) is suspended or interrupted “

Well, my reviewing hiatus is coming to an end.

If you’ve been following my posts and reviews, you may have noticed the silence over the last few months. It’s not that I haven’t been reading, but I’ve been reading differently. The political and social storms of the last year have taken over the conversation – at the dinner table and wherever people gather. The book groups I work with have been similarly affected by political overload.

Living just outside the beltway, the past year hasn’t been measured from January 1, 2017, to January 1, 2018, rather from the inauguration/women’s march to the government shutdown. The events of the year have led to new involvement and activism, and the expectation of daily upheavals of one variety or another.

Not surprisingly, in the book world, some of the emerging themes dovetail with current events. Harrowing stories of immigration and survival appear weekly as memoirs and fiction. Each has the power to put a human face on very difficult issues, particularly for readers who may have little contact with immigrant communities. Racism, assimilation, and America’s economic and cultural divide are also common topics. While I have added a number of these to my to-be-read lists, reading them while absorbing the news is often just too hard.

So what have I been reading? In addition to books for group discussions, I’ve upped my reading of “comfort books”. For me, it’s a combination of historical mysteries and new books that are getting buzz in newspapers and online, though I’m steering clear of “ripped from the headlines” themes. Look for posts on the following titles over the next few weeks as I start reducing the backlog:

  • Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
  • Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
  • Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – a view one year later
  • Y is for Yesterday, an appreciation of Sue Grafton

Out of gratitude for your patience as I worked through this, I’m including a link to end of the year top book picks from a variety of sources. Bookreporter.com is one of my go-to sources for future book group choices. Here is  Bookreporter.com’s compilation of 2017 Best Books lists.

So when next we’re in touch, please let me know what you are reading. I’ll happily share what I’m carrying in my bag!

 

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When fiction bleeds into real life

  • Glass Houses by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books); August 2017
  • In 40 words or less: The latest Three Pines mystery deals with a classic vision of conscience and the strangling effects of opioids on familial life and civil society. Chief Superintendent Gamache will go to any length to break the Quebec-based drug cartel.
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Locale: Quebec
  • Time: Now
  • Fans love Louise Penny’s novels for the strength of the characters she creates. Once again, the human frailties of the principals deepen the storyline.

When I finished Glass Houses yesterday morning I was struck by the timeliness of the storyline – a very small, carefully chosen group within the Sûreté plot to bring down the cartel controlling the distribution of opioids in Quebec and across the US border. And then I listened to CBS 60 Minutes exposé prepared with  The Washington Post on the pharmaceutical industry working with the Congress to diminish the DEA’s authority and resources to combat the proliferation of opioid abuse.

Louise Penny’s Three Pines is isolated and idyllic. Every reader I know would love to spend time in the bistro and the bookstore. But as in every mystery, it’s not all it seems. The day after Halloween a hooded specter appears on the green, a cobrador, a moral debt collector, silently terrorizing all in view. When an occasional visitor is found dead in the cobrador‘s costume, the questions grow.

This story covers the period of approximately a year, bouncing between the murder in the fall and the trial in the heat of the summer. Stifling heat in the courtroom reinforces the discomfort for Gamache and the prosecutor during the trial. Early on, it is clear that neither is fond of the other and that this case is outside the norm.

The drug abuse and the opioid crisis clearly weigh heavy on Louise Penny. Key characters have struggled with abuse and their pasts are woven in as reality. Gamache has a reputation for ferreting out corruption within the ranks, often at a high personal price. The potential for corruption, particularly when dealing with the vast monies associated with drug trafficking are part of the story.

If you are unfamiliar with Louise Penny, I urge you to give it a try. Be aware that there is an arc through all the titles and reading later books will provide spoilers about the lives of the ongoing characters. Having said that, each may also be read and enjoyed as a standalone novel.

It may seem odd that I often choose this genre as a getaway read. Despite the violence, justice generally prevails albeit at a high price. When you look at it that way, it is a much pleasanter experience than keeping up with the news.

 

 

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‘Daring to Drive’: One Woman Changes a Kingdom

  • Daring to Drive by Manal Al-Sharif (Simon & Schuster); June 2017; in collaboration with Lyric Winik
  • In 40 words or less: From childhood, Manal Al-Sharif was unwilling to settle for the roles assigned by teachers and religious authorities. Necessity pushed her to defy convention and drive. Her story provides insight into the harshness of life for less-privileged Saudis.
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Locale: Saudi Arabia
  • Time: 1980’s – 2012
  • As a part of telling her personal story, Manal schools the reader on the history and customs of Saudi life, particularly since 9/11. The critical role Aramco (the state-operated oil company established by John D. Rockefeller) plays in offering women wider opportunities, somewhat outside of the constraints of the broader society, is a catalyst for Manal’s activism.

If you doubt for a moment that one person can bring about major change, Daring to Drive and this week’s dramatic announcement that women will be permitted to drive on the streets of Saudi Arabia prove it. Manal Al-Sharif was not born into an activist family. Her upbringing was in a harsh home, governed by strict Islamic rules and the unbending strictures of an education system determined to minimize girls’ opportunities and ambitions.

Manal always went her own way. She simultaneously questioned the authority of her teachers while exploring very fundamentalist religious teachings, putting her at odds with many including her siblings. 9/11 was a turning point for her, causing her to reassess her belief in the strictest religious teachings and the true nature of the factions calling for the demise of the West.

It is information technology that finally brought Manal to national and world attention. While she wanted to be an engineer, this was not a profession open in any way to women. The limited higher education options included a single path to information technology. Her tenacity and good fortune brought her to Aramco,  giving her a taste of some of the freedoms and opportunities open to women elsewhere in the world. As she learned of the Arab Spring through her laptop, another rarity, she realized that Twitter could provide the platform to bring together Saudi women across the country willing to drive!

This is far more than one woman’s quest. To tell Manal Al-Sharif’s story demanded looks into working-class family life, the juxtaposition of civil law and religious authority, the differential information available to the privileged and ordinary citizens. Decades of Saudi history and custom are woven into the telling. Not surprisingly, Daring to Drive has been received with acclaim in the U.S. and in the United Kingdom, with its large expat Saudi community and many wealthy Saudi visitors. The book has not been available within Saudi Arabia.

Manal was interviewed exhaustively in the development of this book. To bring her story to the page required the failed collaborative efforts of four skilled writers. It took hours of additional Skype conversations and extensive research for Lyric Winik, the final collaborator, to successfully convey the extraordinary personal journey Manal has taken from frightened small child to international activist.

It pays to have friends. My good fortune is to know Jenna and Gadi Ben-Yehuda. Knowing my love of books and authors, they introduced me to Lyric Winik as the book was being released in June. Lyric and I made plans to have her meet with a book group I facilitate on September 26. At 4:00 that afternoon the news bulletins and emails started pouring in – the Saudi Arabian government announced that beginning in June 2018 women would be allowed to drive in public in the kingdom.

Book club meeting, Tuesday, September 26, 2017, discussing ‘Daring to Drive’.

Meeting with a writer is a wonderful experience for a book group. It provides insights beyond the written page – how the narrative was constructed, what research was required, and the challenges of bringing the story to the public. We had many questions for Lyric, and we asked them all. And then we rejoiced for Manal and all the women of Saudi Arabia who have endured so much for so long in silence.

 

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