the waiting roomIN BRIEF:

Beautiful prose and a tension-filled narrative combine to produce a highly satisfying read that confronts life’s biggest topics – love and death

Details, details:

ISBN: 9780857986221 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780857986238 (e-book)
Published: 01/09/2015
Imprint: Vintage Australia
Extent: 304 pages

List Price: $32.99 (AUD)

What the back cover says:

Dina is a family doctor living in the melting-pot city of Haifa, Israel. Born in Australia in a Jewish enclave of Melbourne to Holocaust survivors, Dina left behind a childhood marred by misery and the tragedies of the past to build a new life for herself in the Promised Land.

After starting a family of her own, she finds her life falling apart beneath the demands of her eccentric patients, a marriage starting to fray, the ever-present threat of terrorist attack and the ghost of her mother, haunting her with memories that Dina would prefer to leave on the other side of the world.

Reflections:

When I found this book, I leapt on it and devoured it over two days.

After a couple of less-than-perfect reading experiences (which shall remain nameless) it was almost a relief to find something so well-written, and taught throughout.

Normally, I don’t like to read too quickly. But in this instance, it actually suited the work. For this is a story that takes place over one day. A day that begins as a very stressful one for the heavily pregnant Dina, and ends up being perhaps the most traumatic one of her life.

But through the course of this day, we find out that Dina’s whole life has been touched by trauma. She lives a haunted existence, trailed wherever she goes by the ghost of her mother – a holocaust survivor who variously berates, comforts and cajoles her daughter as Dina attempts to navigate the complexities of her work and family life, complexities which seem to pale in comparison to her mother’s suffering.

‘Her mother’s presence is the phantom pain in a limb long gone. The loss is still so deep, so palpable.’

There is so much to love about Leah Kaminsky’s writing. From the freshness of her imagery – Her mother’s ghost is like a faithful dog – to the skill with which the flashbacks are handled, never diminishing from or halting the narrative, but instead, only increasing the tension and our understanding of Dina’s fragile state.

‘Dina wasn’t there to see the ashes when the war ended, but the she was born into the smoky after-haze. She had never known war, but its tendrils gripped her from a young age, as she tried to make up for everyone her mother had lost. She had to be a good girl; fill her mother’s sadness with love. But with the body of a young teenage girl waking to desire, the turned her back on a life of mourning. And even now, so many years later, she is still never far enough away from the weight of her mother’s world.’

One of the most striking aspects of The Waiting Room is the way in which the scenes of Haifa and Israel are so beautifully drawn; no sense is left untended. We see, hear and smell what it is to live in a country under constant threat of violence, and while Dina longs to escape, the detail with which she describes it betrays the authors own affection for the land.

‘She is careful to avoid the clumps of dog shit on the pavement. Drivers honk their horns and shout at her as she weaves in and out between crowded card and heaving vans. A policewoman stand in the middle of an intersection, waving her hands about wildly as she tries to redirect traffic. The smell of cheese bourekas, fresh out of the oven, wafts over from a bakery up ahead. Tables jutting out are piled high with challah rolls, fresh doughnuts and pita bread sprinkled with zatar. Dina feels her stomach growling and stops to by a warm pretzel. The baker is standing at the entrance to his stall, polishing an egg with a white cloth. She tries to hand him a five-shekel coin.’

There’s nothing I didn’t love about this book. Even the acknowledgements were fascinating. What an extraordinary journey this book has taken! What a huge amount of research and drafting! And what a team of ‘first readers’!

All of this is reflected in the pages. Kaminsky has taken counsel. There is not a word out place. The book is packed full of powerful ideas and images, but there is still an overwhelming sense that it is Leah Kaminsky’s story. That she knew what she wanted to express, and she has done it in the best way possible.

For more information, or to purchase a copy, visit Random House

To discover more about Leah Kaminsky and how she wrote The Waiting Room, read this brilliant guest post she wrote for Lee Koffman’s blog.

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