‘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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‘My Brilliant Friend’ is a book for sharing

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My Brilliant Friend

  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2012)
  • In 40 words or less: The first of four novels by an elusive Italian author centering on the friendship of two women from their childhood in Naples to the present.
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Locale: Naples
  • Time: 1950’s-60’s
  • Read this for an intimate view of life in an isolated working class Italian neighborhood.

In Spring, 2012, I went to the Europa Editions booth at Book Expo and asked which of their titles they would recommend above all others for book groups.  And I took home a yellow-bound advance copy of My Brilliant Friend. As I started to read it, I realized it really is a book to share in a group.

Fast forward to 2015. The final book, The Story of the Lost Child, is released in the U.S. market to great acclaim. My Brilliant Friend becomes a bestseller and I encourage a group to choose it for discussion. And just this week it was announced there’s a move to bring the story to the (small) screen.

Reading about Elena and Lila often seems like you are tagging along behind two best friends, hearing their secrets and their bickering, growing closer and farther apart as they face individual challenges. From childhood the girls were different from most in their tight-knit neighborhood. Smart and competitive, their families often don’t understand them. Ferrante takes the reader in and out of all the apartments, low-end shops and into the intimacies of families struggling to make their way. The community has its own enforcers and watches out for those unable to take of themselves.The first book in the quartet takes Elena and Lila from playing with dolls through Lila’s wedding.

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Ferrante’s fine writing, as ably translated by Ann Goldstein, belies the roughness in the storytelling that reflects life in these Naples neighborhoods in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Disputes are often settled with violence and women have little or no say in their lives. People cross the boundaries of the neighborhood as if they were leaving the country.  And there is little curiosity about the Naples that tourists visit or even the nearby seashore.

The mission of the publisher, Europa Editions, is to bring international literary fiction to American and British audiences. Based in New York with deep Italian roots, their books are well-written, affordable and beautiful.  I love the look and feel of their books – soft-covered with a matte finish and books flaps as part of the cover. My Brilliant Friend is a wonderful introduction to this publishing gem.