Written by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
As reviewed by Lynn M. Piotrowicz
It is a spectacular day when you pick up a book and realize after only a few lines that you have a most rare of jewels in your hand, a great tome. A book of this quality and magnitude causes the reader to gasp aloud. The first time this happened to me I was reading Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. With that gasp comes a recognition that your life has been altered by a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, or a story. When an author so succinctly portrays that moment, they draw a detailed picture in your mind’s eye that will forever remain, not a ghost image, but a vibrant, breathing, colorful piece of living art that no one will ever take away from you.
“How beautiful the earth is when it moves properly. How pleasant to move with it. To forget that any other movement ever existed. That a different movement is even possible.” *
Sometime these moments encompass the darkness of humanity and other times they illuminate the joyfulness of precious innocence. I was working in the fiction department of the Meadville Public Library when Kite Runner was published in 2003. I was the first person in town to read it and I convinced many more to read it since. And, I have never forgotten it!
On Monday I started Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. When my spouse arrived home it was stated, “you must really like that book because you have that look on your face. You get an intense look when you are into a book.” Mind you, I am sitting in the middle of the couch surrounded by darkness with only a small task light illuminating the pages I am savoring. I literarily can’t move. I am reading each and every word. I am saying words aloud. I am feeling the emotion that the author has poured onto the pages; constructing paragraphs of such depth I have been whisked away.
Gundar-Goshen is a master storyteller. A trained clinical psychologist, Ayelet uses her command of the human psyche to build a roller coaster; a crescendo of violence and lies followed by the diminuendo of emotional tenderness and innocence. She uses language and the written word in exacting detail. Paragraph after paragraph, I found myself awestruck by the profoundness with which she writes of the human experience. Our relationships, our fears, our humanity is on full display in Waking Lions. Moments of literary greatness abound. One of my favorites represents the strength of her writing, the poignancy of her thoughts which elicits a significant memory of my grandmother:
“For her grandmother, everything had its place, and everything was folded. One woman’s quiet but resolute mutiny against an entire world. Outside, there was disarray…But none of it crossed the threshold of the house. A simple screen door kept the mosquitoes, the flies, and the world outside. And inside—perfect order. Life carefully folded. Jars of pickles arranged in rows prepared for battle. And how quickly they ate them during the shiva, almost without noticing. They ate them with such wastefulness, one after the other, until her mother suddenly appeared from the kitchen, her face pale, and said: That’s the last one. They put it on a porcelain plate and took it ceremoniously to the balcony. There it lay, as damp as a fetus. They waited for the last of the visitors to go and then cut it into three pieces…They chewed it slowly, knowing that the taste that filled their mouths and tickled their tongues now was the last. The absolute end. And that their mouths had never been so full and so empty at the same time.”
In trying to think of how best to describe what Ayelet has created I kept thinking about oyster pearls and the diving tanks at tourist attractions in Florida. Sometimes you pay your $10 and you get a pearl and other times you get nothing. Think of Waking Lions as a tank full of oysters with pearls; every bivalve you open contains a beautiful gem. Every paragraph starts with a simple statement which Gundar-Goshen uses to create a visceral response. Much like a quilter, you know you have greatness in the individual sections of material but it is only when all the pieces are sewn together do you realize what magnificence looks like. Waking Lions is that!
*From somewhere in Waking Lions!