• Review
By – January 12, 2017

In the back of beyond in the Negev, some­where between Omer and Beer­she­va, Dr. Eitan Green — a man of prin­ci­ple who end­ed up in Beer­she­va because he refused to tol­er­ate bribery in the med­ical field — runs over an Eritre­an migrant work­er while on a mid­night dri­ve through the desert. He leaves his vic­tim by the side of the road and dri­ves away.

Yes, it mat­tered that the man had been an Eritre­an. Because they all looked alike to Eitan. Because he didn’t know them. And yes, that sound­ed ter­ri­ble, but he wasn’t the only one who felt that way. He was just only the one who had hap­pened to run one of them over.

There is a folk proverb that says that once a lion is wok­en up and tastes human flesh, it will nev­er eat any­thing else again. In Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s sec­ond nov­el, the wok­en lion is Sirk­it, the wife of the man Eitan ran over; the flesh she refus­es to let go of is Eitan’s. The day after the mur­der, she appears at Eitan’s home hold­ing his wal­let. She uses it to black­mail Eitan into set­ting up a night clin­ic in a garage where he is forced to treat the sick of the Eritre­an refugees. Eitan is trapped. He must work at his makeshift clin­ic at night or face mur­der charges, and he must con­tin­ue to live his every­day life as a neu­ro­sur­geon in a near­by hos­pi­tal. All this must be done with­out his chil­dren dis­cov­er­ing his secret life. It is espe­cial­ly imper­a­tive that he keeps his secret from his wife, who is a police offi­cer active­ly inves­ti­gat­ing the crime.

As Eitan hides his night activ­i­ties, Sirk­it hides her true motives. The two work togeth­er night after night as Eitan fab­ri­cates sto­ries for his fam­i­ly. Eitan and Sirk­it are ambigu­ous about each oth­er: It’s dif­fi­cult to hate for such a long, con­tin­u­ous peri­od of time. Two peo­ple work in the same place for hours. Around them, peo­ple come and go. But it’s always the same two peo­ple in the same place.… they begin to be too tired even to hate.” A rela­tion­ship builds between them.

The author ele­gant­ly inter­twines sym­bols and metaphors into her tale. The moon is vital to the Eritre­an woman, because it allows Eitan to see to per­form his pro­ce­dures. Sirk­it her­self grows ros­es next to her door, a clear ref­er­ence to Hes­ter Prynne in The Scar­let Let­ter, where ros­es grew next to the jail­house where Hes­ter was kept. The women in both nov­els kept their secrets.

The Eritre­ans and the Bedouins are por­trayed as under­dogs — viewed as unwant­ed tres­passers on the land of the sto­ry. The hatred of the Israelis toward the two groups is rec­i­p­ro­cat­ed. A Bedouin boy hits an Israeli boy in the eye with a ham­mer; the Israeli police casu­al­ly deal with the Eritre­an and Bedouin deaths. One feels for the strangers who are treat­ed so cav­a­lier­ly by the soci­ety that har­bors them.

Wak­ing Lions is a sophis­ti­cat­ed and elo­quent­ly writ­ten book. It is also a grip­ping read, offer­ing read­ers a fas­ci­nat­ing look into the lit­tle-known cul­ture of the Eritre­an refugee camp. It allows the read­er to enter a world of secrets, moral cor­rup­tion, and redemption.

Suri Boiangiu recent­ly semi-retired from the posi­tion of assis­tant prin­ci­pal at an all-girls high school. She has either been an admin­is­tra­tor or taught Eng­lish at Yeshiv­ah of Flat­bush and Magen David High School. She loves read­ing mod­ern fic­tion, or any fic­tion, and Ama­zon knows her by her first name.

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