Human Parts

“It was an exceptional winter.” With deceptive understatement, Orly Castel-Bloom draws back the curtain on her disturbing, revelatory novel set in Israel during the Al Aksa intifada. This is a world already regularly interrupted by terrorist ambushes and suicide bombs. And now it is further plagued by a Saudi flu that is decimating the population, and by apocalyptic weather that brings a ruinous winter after eight years of drought. The economy is shot to pieces. Hail stones as big as dinner plates are falling from the sky.

And yet, against this backdrop of monumental affliction, ordinary people are still trying to lead normal lives. Kati Beit-Halahmi, an impoverished cleaner, is snatched up by a community television program and given her full fifteen-minutes-of-fame. Iris Ventura, divorced with three children, is wondering how she can afford both to replace her broken washing machine and have some essential dental work done. And the Israeli president, Reuven Tekoa, travels from hospital to funeral, musing on the state of the nation from the back of his limousine.

Orly Castel-Bloom spins a web of filament-fine connections between her characters whose preoccupations, she reminds us, are not so very different from our own. Death or disaster might intrude at any moment, but people still watch game shows on TV, go to the laundromat and train to be beauticians.

One can draw a number of conclusions from this excellent novel, and I have singled out one of them: On several occasions Bergson pondered why so few people had come to the shiva. The explanation he found most persuasive was that people had had enough of death.
Ma’ariv Weekend Supplement

Orly Castel-Bloom was born in north Tel Aviv in 1960, to a family of Egyptian Jews. Her mother worked in a bank and her father was an accountant for the airline El Al. Until the age of three, she had French nannies and spoke only French. She studied film at Tel Aviv University and theater at the Beit Zvi School for the Performing Arts in Ramat Gan. Castel-Bloom lives in Tel Aviv and has two children.

Castel-Bloom’s first collection of short stories, Not Far from the Center of Town (Lo Rahok mi-Merkhaz ha-Ir), was published in 1987 by Am Oved. She is the author of 11 books, including collections of short fiction and novels. Her 1992 novel Dolly City, has been included in the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works, and in 1999 she was named one of the fifty most influential women in Israel. Dolly City has been performed as a play in Tel Aviv.

In Free Radicals (Radikalim Hofshiyim) published in 2002, Castel-Bloom stopped writing in the first-person. In Human Parts (Halakim Enoshiyim) published by Godine in 2002, she was the first Israeli novelist to address the subject of Palestinian suicide bombings. Her anthology of short stories You Don’t Argue with Rice, was published in 2003. Castel-Bloom has won the Prime Minister’s award twice, the Tel Aviv award for fiction and was nominated for the Sapir Prize for Literature.

Israeli literary critic Gershon Shaked called her a postmodern writer who “communicates the despair of a generation which no longer even dreams the dreams of Zionist history.”

Dalya Bilu is the translator of A.B.Yehoshua, Aharon Appelfeld and many others. She has been awarded numerous prizes, including the Israel Culture and Education Ministry Prize for Translation, and the Jewish Book Council Award for Hebrew-English Translation. She lives in Jerusalem.