Castel-Bloom, Orly 1960-
CASTEL-BLOOM, Orly 1960-
ADDRESSES: Home—Tel Aviv, Israel. Agent—c/o Author Mail, David R. Godine, 9 Hamilton Place, Boston, MA 02108-4715.
CAREER: Writer. Military service: Completed obligatory army training for national service.
AWARDS, HONORS: Tel Aviv Prize for Literature, 1990, for Dolly City; Alterman Prize, 1993; Prime Minister's Prize (Israel), 1994, 2001; named one of the fifty most influential women in Israel, 1999; Newman Prize, 2003.
Lo rahok mi-merkaz ha-'ir (short stories; title means "Not Far from the Center of Town"), 'Am 'Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1987.
Sevivah 'oyenet (short stories; title means "Hostile Surroundings"), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel Aviv, Isreal), 1989.
Hekhan ani nimtset (novel; title means "Where I Am"), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1990.
Doli siti (novel), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1992, translation by Dalya Bilu published as Dolly City, Loki (London, England), 1997.
Sipurim bilti-retsoniyim (short stories; title means "Unbidden Stories"), Zemorah-Bitan (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1993.
Ha-Minah Lizah (novel; title means "Mina Lisa"), Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1995.
Shenenu nitnaheg yafeh: sihot 'im beni (for children; title means "Let's Behave Ourselves: Talking to My Son"), illustrated by Karmit Gileadi-Pollard, Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1997.
(As Orli Kastel-Blum) Ha-Sefer he-hadash (novel; title means "Taking the Trend"), Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1998.
Radikalim hofshiyim (short stories; title means "Free Radicals"), Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 2000.
Halakim enoshiyim (novel), Kineret (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2002, translated by Dalya Bilu as Human Parts, David R. Godine (Boston, MA), 2003.
Im orez lo mitvakchim (short stories; title means "You Don't Argue with Rice"), Kineret/Zmora Bitan (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2004.
Some of Castel-Bloom's works have been translated into Dutch, French, Swedish, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, and Chinese.
SIDELIGHTS: Considered one of the most talented Jewish writers of her generation, Orly Castel-Bloom was named one of the fifty most influential women in Israel by a leading Israeli newspaper. In her short stories and novels, Castel-Bloom challenges her readers with controversial social topics and criticisms. In her novel Doli siti (translated as Dolly City), the author tells the tale of the seemingly demented Doctor Dolly and the discarded baby she finds in a plastic bag. Unable to practice medicine, Dolly has her own laboratory, where she conducts horrific experiments with animals for her cancer research. Her newfound "son" becomes one of her experiments; she thinks that he might have a disease, so she cuts him open to make sure all of his organs are there. She then carves a map of Israel on his back. Dolly eventually attempts suicide, and her son grows up to become a diver in an Israeli submarine. He later hijacks a plane and disappears into the desert.
In World Literature Today, Don Vardi noted that the satiric novel's gruesome details will likely put off some readers, and he questioned the meaning behind Castel-Bloom's grotesque tale. However, Marion Baraitser, writing in The Babel Guide to Jewish Fiction, believed that "Doctor Dolly and her son 'Son' are a joint metaphor for Israel itself, and the novel is also a satirical parable on the 'Yiddishe-mamma' complex." The reviewer further commented that the book is a commentary on Israel's obsession with its borders, which ultimately leads to "Arabo-Phobia" and violence and death. "Yet, even though Dolly City aims at times to offend," the reviewer continued, "forcing us to react to the contemporary issues of child abuse, to the horror of city life (Tel Aviv is shown as an alienating cancerous 'city'), the style remains light and witty and laughter is mixed with the horror."
In the novel Ha-Sefer he-hadash, Castel-Bloom tells the story of a young Tel Aviv woman who has little sense of meaning in her life because she lives in a culture based on quickly changing fads. Although she is seeking a path to follow, the protagonist's search appears to be futile. Writing in World Literature Today, Michael Ben-Chaim described the book as "first and foremost an enchanting celebration of the Hebrew language of ordinary people in a modern urban environment, who suddenly realize that history is nothing but the minor experiences that make up their daily encounters with one another."
Castel-Bloom returned to short stories with Radikalim hofshiyim. According to Etan Levine in another World Literature Today review, the collection's nineteen short stories and vignettes are united by the fact that "they involve people who, in the language of microphysics, are free radicals." Levine compared Castel-Bloom's characters to "charged particles seeking to merge with an appropriate other" as they try to adapt to their world and build personal relationships. As in much of her writings, Castel-Bloom liberally uses trendy slang as she tells stories about the "now generation" and its modern angst. Levine commented that the book will probably find its way into an English translation because "its deft illuminations of the deeper and more intimate aspects of life—the spheres of domestic and sexual life, of belief and loyalty, of the search for knowledge and stability—demonstrate how the modern Israeli situation in these spheres is not very different from" what people everywhere experience.
With the dramatic increase in terrorist activities in the first years of the twenty-first century, Castel-Bloom felt she could no longer avoid this painful topic in her fiction. Her novel Halakim enoshiyim—translated and published as Human Parts—is a satirical study of the effects of daily violence on Israeli society. The title itself is a gruesome reference to the pieces of human bodies that regularly appear on Israeli city streets following a terrorist attack. Most bombing victims were innocent people trying to go about their daily activities. The author includes a variety of characters from all walks of life in her story in order to show how violence affects all levels of society. To increase the atmosphere of never-ending anxiety, Castel-Bloom posits her characters in an Israel that is being hit by both an unusually cold winter and a deadly strain of flu. The result is that her characters live in constant fear of death, whether it is from a suicide bomb, sickness, or some other unexpected cause.
Thrown into this nearly intolerable environment, the author places a Kurdish cleaning woman named Kati Beit-Halahmi; Kati's depressed husband, Boaz; a single mother named Iris Ventura, whose divorce has put her in economic straits; and Adir Bergson, an Ethiopian immigrant who has taken up with Iris's boyfriend and wants to become a television star. The constant worry of terrorism and other threats have left each of these characters feeling numb, and they replace real emotion with an obsession with such superficial cultural concerns as television.
Ultimately, the effect of Human Parts, according to Rochelle Furstenberg in the Jerusalem Report, is of a satirical soap opera populated by two-dimensional caricatures of people: "In spite of her declared intentions, Castel-Bloom does not seem interested in penetrating Israel's socio-psychological reality as much as she is in describing how it is perceived on TV and radio. Everything is filtered through media clips of unending catastrophe, infinite chaos. Language is similarly devalued, and even in translation, her broad satire comes across successfully." Writing in Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, critic D. Mesher observed: "Human Parts would be as jarring to read as the grotesque experiments of Dolly City, were it not for the author's inventive and often insightful narrative, which eases but does not attempt to hide the bitter critiques of one of Israel's most original and disaffected writers." Although a Publishers Weekly contributor felt that the results of Castel-Bloom's efforts are "occasionally heavy-handed," the critic added that the author's "insights into human weaknesses and self-interest are wickedly precise." Library Journal reviewer Molly Abramowitz concluded that Human Parts is a "well-written, engrossing, and captivating narrative."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America's Intelligence Wire, October 28, 2004, Anna Molin, "Israeli Novelist Speaks on Terrorism at San Jose State."
Booklist, November 1, 2003, Michele Leber, review of Human Parts, p. 478.
Jerusalem Report, May 17, 2004, Rochelle Furstenberg, review of Human Parts, p. 37.
Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, summer-fall, 2004, D. Mesher, "Human, in Parts," p. 310.
Library Journal, December, 2003, Molly Abramowitz, review of Human Parts, p. 164.
New York Times, June 17, 2002, Samuel G. Freedman, review of Human Parts, p. E1.
Publishers Weekly, December 22, 2003, review of Human Parts, p. 39.
World Literature Today, spring, 1993, Dov Vardi, review of Dolly City, pp. 438-439; winter, 2000, Michael Ben-Chaim, review of Ha-Sefer he-hadash, p. 213; summer-autumn, 2001, Etan Levine, review of Radikalim hofshiyim, pp. 231-232.
Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature Web site, http://www.ithl.org.il/ (June 20, 2005), "Orly Castel-Bloom."
Jewish Books Online, http://www.jewishbooksonline.co.uk/ (May 7, 2002), "Dolly City."
National Foundation for Jewish Culture Web site, http://www.jewishculture.org/ (June 20, 2005), Orly Castel-Bloom, "Reflections on Literature and Identity."