Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s latest novel The Wolf Hunt (translated by Sondra Silverston) was first published in Hebrew with the name Relocation. And while the new title has some resonance with the plot, the original name cuts deeper to the concerns that Gundar-Goshen is trying to explore. That is, the split and tension in the lives of expatriate Israelis who have relocated to America. Along the way Gundar-Goshen deals with many more issues including the fraught relationship between parents and teenagers, bullying, anti-semitism and racism.
The Wolf Hunt opens with a killer short chapter in which the narrator, an Israeli woman called Lilach but who everyone calls Leela, tells readers that her son Adam has been accused of killing another boy but that she knows that this isn’t true. As the story evolves through the lead up to the death of Jamal Jones and the aftermath, neither the reader not Lilach is quite as sure about Adam’s involvement. Before she gets to that death, though, Lilach describes another – the killing of a young woman by a knife wielding man in a synagogue that puts the whole of the Jewish community of Silicon Valley (where the family has relocated for her husband’s work) on alert. So much so that Adam, along with a group of teenage boys fall under the spell of a man called Uri who offers them intense self defence training and the mantra that if someone rises up to kill them then they should strike first. So that when a fellow student, Jamal is found dead at a party, eventually suspicion falls on Adam. Uri, also an Israeli, puts himself forward to offer the family support but also seems to have his own agenda.
The Wolf Hunt is tense from the first page. Gundar-Goshen succeeds in constantly tightening the screws on Lilach and her family. Uri, in particular is a mercurial character and Lilach is never sure whether to trust him or not, sometimes being suspicious of his motives but sometimes being grateful that he is there to help and guide them – glad that there is at least one adult who can communicate with her son. Along the way, Gundar-Goshen surfaces a number of issues without necessarily resolving any of them, just highlighting the fact that they are complicated. This includes anti-semitism, the additional tension created by the displacement of Black communities in certain parts of America (in this case Palo Alto) through gentrification, the factors that have pushed Israelis to leave their home country which they want to stay connected to but that also puts pressure on them to succeed in America.
By sitting behind Lilach’s point of view, the reader cannot help but be swept into her fears and concerns – is Adam a murderer? is Uri trying to undermine or support her relationship with Adam and her husband? is her husband having an affair? what is she supposed to do with a life in America in which her husband is the sole breadwinner? The makes The Wolf Hunt an often uncomfortable but ultimately rewarding book to read. Not all of Lilach’s questions are answered, while some elements are resolved there is still plenty of grey left at the end. The Wolf Hunt is as messy and as unsatisfying as life can be and that is another one of its many strengths.
For more of Robert’s reviews, visit his blog Pile By the Bed
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- The Woman in the Purple Skirt (Natsuko Imamura) – book review
- The Partisan (Patrick Worrall) – book review
- All the Lovers in the Night (Mieko Kawakami) – book review
Robert Goodman is a book reviewer, former Ned Kelly Awards judge and institutionalised public servant based in Sydney. This and over 450 more book reviews can be found on his website Pile By the Bed.