Thursday, March 23, 2017

*Review* The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky

Genre: Literary Fiction
Published: November 15, 2016
Pages: 320


Leah Kaminsky’s powerful fiction debut—a multi-generational novel perfect for fans of The Tiger’s Wife and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena—unfolds over a day in the life of a young physician in contemporary Israel, who must cope with modern threats in the shadow of her parents’ horrific wartime pasts.

A young doctor in Haifa, Israel, must come to terms with her family’s painful past—and its lingering aftermath—as the conflict between Palestine and Israel reaches its height and the threat of a terrorist attack looms over the city....

Born to two survivors in the smoky after-haze of WWII, Dina has never been able to escape her parents’ history. Tortured by memories of Bergen-Belsen, her mother leaves Dina to inherit her decades of trauma. 

Dina desperately anchors herself in family—a cherished young son, a world-weary husband, and a daughter on the way—and her work as a doctor, but she is struggling to cope, burdened by both the very real anxieties of her daily life and also the shadows of her parents’ ghosts, who follow her wherever she goes. A witty, sensitive narrator, she fights to stay grounded in the here-and-now, even as the challenges of motherhood and medicine threaten to overwhelm her. 

In taut, compelling prose, The Waiting Room weaves between Dina’s exterior and interior lives, straddling the present and the past—and building towards a profoundly dramatic climax that will remind readers of the fragility of human life even as it reassures them of the inescapable power of love and family.


I received a copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program in the hopes that I would leave an honest review. 

This book transported me to a place I didn't expect to go; namely a war zone. I'm not sure why I didn't expect that. I read the blurb, and on a basic level understood what the words meant, but somehow that didn't translate into my idea of where I would be going with this story. That is purely my own fault, but it threw me for an immediate loop that I needed to recover from before I could really settle in with Dina. 

Then once I did feel a bit settled in, I was still left reeling. For one thing, Dina is a doctor (I think, like a general practitioner) who is seems to spend the entire day out of her office or avoiding seeing patients to the best of her ability. And I certainly don't begrudge her time to run some errands and catch a breath between patients, but this seemed a bit extreme. However, maybe that's normal in Israel for the type of clinic where she works. But it seemed very weird to me. 

Dina also seemed to be teetering on the brink of insanity for most of the story. She talks to the ghost of her mother who will apparently not leave her alone, and the ghost encourages some rather strange behavior. Now of course the ghost is really probably just like her natural instincts, and using the idea of her mother may just be a way for Dina to cope and work through issues (I have conversations with imaginary people sometimes too). It just seems a bit more extreme in Dina. 

Overall I give The Waiting Room 4 out of 5 stars because it did engage me and get me thinking, and it pulled me into a world different from my own where I was ultimately able to take up residence for a few hours. 

Buy the Book

About the Author

Leah Kaminsky, a physician and award-winning writer, is Poetry & Fiction Editor at the Medical Journal of Australia. Her debut novel, The Waiting Room is published by Vintage (2015) and will be released by Harper Perennial US in 2016. We’re all Going to Die is forthcoming with Harper Collins in June 2016. She conceived and edited Writer MD, a collection of prominent physician-writers, which starred on Booklist (Knopf US 2012). She is co-author of Cracking the Code, with the Damiani family (Vintage 2015). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. (


  1. Replies
    1. It was, and it wasn't. I just don't even have the words to describe what it was. - Katie

  2. You and your literary books. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, but based on the blurb alone, I don't think I could get through it. (Yay for knocking out another Goodreads win review!)

    1. Yeah, I had this marked as read and halfway reviewed back in like November. Because that's when I finished it. I'm getting super close to caught up on writing my reviews now though. - Katie