Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Waking Lions

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Waking Lions Summary

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Waking Lions is a 2018 novel by Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Set in modern-day Israel, it follows Dr. Eitan Green, whose life changes forever when he carries out a hit-and-run in the Israeli desert, leaving behind a dead Eritrean refugee. Eitan is tracked down by the refugee’s wife, who forces him to pay for his crimes by giving medical aid to illegal refugees in Tlalim. The novel meditates on the complex moral cost of xenophobia and atrocity in the modern world, where the routine displacement of already-vulnerable people into marginalized, unstable, and ambiguous positions can create unimaginable burdens.

At the beginning of the novel, Dr. Eitan Green faces a moral dilemma, but a straightforward one on his part: he has found that his supervisor, Professor Zakai, has been taking bribes to expedite medical care for wealthier patients. Eitan reports Professor Zakai, but the hospital director responds by transferring Eitan from the Raanana hospital to Soroka hospital in the city of Beersheba. Eitan regrets reporting his boss, because it damaged his career prospects and well-being more than it helped eradicate corruption. One night, after an arduous shift, he lets off steam by speeding through the desert in his SUV. The desert is dark, and he does not see the refugee trying to cross the road. Colliding with the man, he gets out of his car to find him in critical condition. Knowing that the Eritrean man will die whether or not he gives him medical care, Eitan flees the scene of the crime. His fear that he will lose his license to practice and go to prison serves as his self-justification. When he flees, however, he accidentally drops his wallet.

The next day, Sirkit, an Eritrean woman, knocks on Eitan’s front door shortly after his wife and kids leave to go about their days. She hands him his wallet and demands that they talk. Afraid that his family will return home and that Sirkit will tell them about what happened, Eitan asks if they can speak elsewhere. Sirkit selects an abandoned garage in Tlalim. That night, Eitan goes to the garage to meet Sirkit. He finds that she has outfitted the garage with hospital equipment. Sirkit tells him that he killed her husband, Asum, and delivers an ultimatum: either he returns each night to give medical aid to local refugees, or she tells his family about the murder he committed.

Eitan is further jeopardized because his wife, Liat, works as a police investigator, and happens to be assigned to Asum’s death. At first, a man named Ali is pressured into giving a false confession of murdering Asum. Skeptical that he is the true murderer, Liat continues to investigate. After Ali’s girlfriend, Mona, provides a convincing alibi, Liat believes in his innocence. Several days later, Mona is admitted to the hospital with massive bleeding after being stabbed multiple times by Ali’s brothers for having engaged in “impure” sexual relations with him. Eitan tries to save her but fails. After learning that Eitan left his shift early, Liat starts to suspect that he is up to something behind her back.

Eitan leaves home for a few weeks to give Liat space. Sirkit finds him and insists that he come to the makeshift hospital to help her friend, Semar, give birth. Eitan delivers the baby and then stays overnight to monitor their health. When they wake in the morning, the baby is in critical condition. With the knowledge that he will certainly lose his medical license, he rushes to the hospital with the baby, but the staff is unable to save it. He returns to the garage to take care of Semar. They are soon discovered by Davidson, the man who raped Semar and was the baby’s biological father. Davidson takes hold of Semar and starts beating her. In the ensuing fight, Sirkit stabs Davidson, killing him. Sirkit strikes a deal with Eitan: he can leave the hospital for good if he never speaks about her murder of Davidson.

When Eitan gets home, Liat and his children are gone. He calls her, and she reveals that his attending nurse told her that he called in sick, proving that he was up to something else. Eitan drives to Liat’s mother’s house, where his family is staying. When he gets Liat in private, he receives an emergency call from Semar begging him to see Sirkit, who is in bad shape. He returns to the makeshift hospital knowing that it might ruin his marriage. Sirkit has been beaten by a drug dealer, for whom Asum had been working on the night of his death, demanding the drugs that disappeared. Enraged that Sirkit jeopardized her life by keeping the drugs, Eitan leaves her. As he drives off, he passes a car heading towards the garage and decides to turn around to save her. He reaches Sirkit just before the gang members do. They flee in his car, running over an attacker who starts shooting at them. The police arrive and arrest Eitan and Sirkit.

The next morning, the police chief, Marciano, interrogates Eitan. Marciano explains that Sirkit has helped establish his innocence by stating that he was merely trying to give medical aid to refugees in Tlalim. Eitan is released. Suspicious of her husband, Liat decides to interrogate Sirkit on her own. Sirkit fabricates a humanitarian explanation for Eitan’s medical services. Eventually, Liat accepts that Eitan has told the truth. The novel’s close takes place a few weeks after the interrogations. Eitan visits Sirkit, who now lives in a refugee concentration camp. Unable to exchange any comforting words, they part ways for good.