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Orly Castel-Bloom

(1960- )

CASTEL-BLOOM, ORLY (1960– ), Hebrew writer. Born in Tel Aviv, Castel-Bloom studied film at Tel Aviv University and began publishing in 1987. She is considered to be the one of the most original writers of the new generation, who – along with Etgar *Keret – introduced postmodernistic techniques into Israeli prose works. Rejecting ideological writing and probing daily and literary language, metaphors, and clichés, she developed her own distinctive style, marked by involvement and irony, sensitive intensity and alienation, black humor, and wording that is razor sharp. Gershon *Shaked noted that she "has succeeded in giving shape to the terrible despair of the metropolitan person, whose every contact with the world is imaginary," and Dan *Miron wrote: "No other writer of her generation is as interesting…. There is in her work a shout of resistance, a scorn for social norms and public taste." Her first book, the collection Lo raḥok mi-Merkaz ha-Ir ("Not Far from the Center of Town," 1987), is composed of urban stories taking place against a background of banality: the seemingly dull marriage routine of Dalia and Avishai; the operation transforming a successful journalist into a 13-year-old boy ("Wonderful"); an ironic-satiric description of Israelis in the United States ("The Mystery of the Pig's Head," included in R. Domb, ed., New Women's Writing from Israel). The second collection, Sevivah Oyenet ("Hostile Surroundings," 1989), was followed by Castel-Bloom's first novel, Heykhan Ani Nimẓet (Where Am I?, Dutch trans., 1992), the story of the picaresque, fantastic passage of a nameless 40-year-old divorcee through a crass, materialistic society. Her second novel, Doli Siti (1992; Dolly City, 1997), enters with wild imaginative energy into the psyche of an Israeli mother. Dolly, a young physician who received her professional training in, of all places, Katmandu, runs a laboratory in which she slices and cuts, eviscerates, and examines animals. The narrator introduces a cancerous world, a bureaucracy that operates in mysterious and destructive ways, a world in which disease and death prevail. But even new life yearns for perdition. Dolly finds an infant by the side of the road and adopts him as her son with the name Ben (Hebrew for son). Concern, repulsion, anger, and infinite love characterize Dolly's complex relationship with the boy. Indeed, the narrator seems to offer a postmodern variation on the theme of the "Yiddishe Mamma." Afraid that he will become ill, Dolly gives him every known vaccination. To ensure that there is no disease in his body, she cuts him, is reassured for a moment, but is soon wracked again by doubt. Worried to distraction, she transplants a kidney, his third one. The mother's bond with the boy becomes an obsession with ambivalent meanings. The mother-son relationship can also be interpreted as a metaphoric contemplation of the Israeli situtation. Castel-Bloom's spectrum of criticism and irony is stretched to encompass the Occupation, the Lubavitch ultra-Orthodox movement, the myth of the Western Wall, and the Israeli lifestyle. The novel is included in the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works, and the French daily Le Monde hailed the author as "Kafka in Tel Aviv."

Ha-Minah Lizah (1995; "The Mina Lisa," trans. into French, German, and Chinese) is yet another typical literary tour de force for Castel-Bloom: the story of a happy housewife, whose routine is shattered when her husband's grandmother, 200-year-old Flora, comes to stay with the family, devouring Mina's screenplays. The two women fly off on a fanciful journey in time, in a novel combining fizzy realism and fantasy. Ḥalakim Enoshiyim (2002; Human Parts, 2003) is a topical novel, dealing with painful reality in terror-ridden Israel, featuring figures from various social classes and neighborhoods, poor and rich, successful, jobless, sick, ambitious, forlorn. They all try to cling to life in a situation that appears almost apocalyptic. Castel-Bloom published also Sippurim bilti Reẓoniyim ("Unbidden Stories," 1993); a book for children entitled Shneinu Nitnaheg Yafeh ("Let's Behave Ourselves," 1997); Radikalim Ḥofshiyim (2000; "Free Radicals," French trans., 2003); Ha-Sefer ha-Ḥadash shel Orly Castel-Bloom (1998); and a selection of 28 stories produced during 17 years of prose writing entitled 'Im Orez lo Mitvakḥim ("You Don't Argue with Rice," 2004). Orly Castel-Bloom was awarded the Prime Minister´s Prize (1994 and 2001) as well as the Newman Prize (2003). An English translation of "Someone Else's Story" is included in M. Gluzman and N. Seidman (eds.), Israel: A Traveler's Literary Companion (1996); "High Tide" is included in G. Abramson (ed.), The Oxford Book of Hebrew Short Stories (1996).


D. Miron, in: Al ha-Mishmar (June 16, 1989); A. Balaban, in: Haaretz (March 16, 1990); W. Zierler, in: The Jerusalem Post (June 12, 1992); A. Feinberg, in: Modern Hebrew Literature, New Series, 8–9 (1992); A. Hirschfeld, in: Haaretz (May 29, 1992); O. Bartana, in: Moznayim, June-July (1992), 31–25; Y. Ziv, in: Yedioth Ahronoth (November 19, 1993); D. Miron, in: Haaretz, Sefarim (January 19, 1994); R. Levi, Ha-Te'ori'ah ha-Postmodernit ve-Darkhei Yisumah (1994); B. Gur, in: Haaretz (June, 16, 1995); T. Niv-Miller, in: Haaretz, Sefarim (June 21, 1995); A. Zemach, in: Haaretz (March 29, 1996); A. Mendelson-Maoz, Ha-Sipporet ha-Postmodernistit ke-Sipporet shel Situ'aẓiot Kiẓoniyot: Iyyun bi-Yeẓirotehem shel O. Castel-Bloom ve-Etgar Keret (1996); D. Gurevitz, Postmodernism (2003), 287–304; S. Pinsilber, Imahot, Shiga'on ve-Nashiyut eẓel O. Castel-Bloom (2000); H. Sakrah, Zehut Nashit ve-Hishtakfutah be-Hebetim Tematiyim ve-Poetiyim shel Ḥasimah ve-shel Merḥaviyut: Yeẓirotehem shel Ruth Almog, Dorit Abush ve-Orly Castel-Bloom (2001); S. Schifman, in: Haaretz, Sefarim (April 24, 2002); N. Livneh, in: Haaretz (April 5, 2002); E. Negev, Close Encounters with Twenty Israeli Writers (2003), 161–69: V. Figuière-Cagnac, "Dolly City ou La jungle de La Vie," in: Zafon 33–34 (1998), 55–56; D.A. Starr, "Reterritorializing the Dream: Orly Castel Bloom's Remapping of Israeli Identity," in: L.J. Silberstein (ed.), Mapping Jewish Identities (2000), 220–49; S. Shiffman, "Motherhood under Zionism," in: Hebrew Studies 44 (2003), 139–56. WEBSITE: ITHL at

[Anat Feinberg (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.