Waking Lions is a beautifully translated, slow-burning drama that raises lots of moral dilemmas and was great as a reading group book. It's about an honest, well-meaning surgeon being made to pay for a hit and run that the dead man's wife witnessed. We weren't convinced, given the described moral strength of both the surgeon and his detective wife, that they would either have been banished in the first place or would have left the Eritrean to die. There were other aspects of the story that also felt a little contrived, and at times it was quite wordy, but putting all that aside it's a well written ripping yarn with a bit of a twist towards the end. As more and more was revealed about the seedier side of Israeli life, the treatment of refugees and the way they're forced to live, all of which was new to our reading group members, moral dilemmas were being raised constantly which forced us to engage with the narrative and led to some lively discussion.
Apart from the obvious "What would you have done?" there was much to be discussed including racism, migration, refugees, drug trafficking, the role of the health service and the welfare state.
Firstly, I think the book's basic idea raises an interesting ethical question - can we know how we would react in any given situation? I'm sure many of us have been in the position where we do something in frustration or anger and think "how could I have said/done that?", hopefully not to the extent of being a hit and run driver, but who knows? I thought it was a well-written/translated study of how individuals at the top of the heap can be dehumanised, or driven to do criminal things out of fear of being found out, while those at the bottom of the heap may develop skills and strengths they didn't know they had.
I would have liked to know more about the wife's back story - there are hints that she may be Oriental Jewish (= not quite top drawer), which might have been more understandable to Israeli readers. (I'd also like to know how, as a whizz detective, she failed to discover that her husband had removed a large chunk of their savings from their bank account). For me Sirket is by far the most interesting character: beautiful, intelligent, a rapid learner and very quick to spot opportunities and manoeuvre situations to her advantage, a long way from her beginnings as an abused wife grieving over her dead children in Eritrea. As she gains in strength Eitan seems to unravel, and it was interesting to speculate where this would end. Would it be too much to say that he is doing good things for the wrong reasons, and she is doing wrong things for the right reasons?
There is much in the book that is positive and life-affirming, but at the end what has really changed? Eitan gets his life back with an enhanced reputation, and rides off into the sunset with wife and kids, whilst disfigured Sirket, who, born in a different place and environment could have held down his job, is reduced to plotting which of the guards she will seduce in a bid to stop being deported. If there is a 'moral' to this story, it is that the 'haves' continue to thrive, whilst the 'have-nots' get screwed. I would give it a mark of 7.