FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Rich, Israeli Beauty Freak

by CHARLES R. LARSON

Orly Castel-Bloom’s goofy and thoroughly-entertaining novel, Textile, will upend your image of contemporary Israel but also feed into any stereotype you may have of privileged Israeli Jews, with too much money and little to keep their attention other than spending it on frivolity.  Though Castle-Bloom (what kind of name is that, anyway?) has been widely praised in Israel and won several prestigious literary awards, few of her eleven books have been translated into English.  And speaking of translation, the copyright page attributes the translation from Hebrew to Dalya Bilu, though she is not listed anywhere else in the volume.  I’d call the translation (copyrighted by the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature) passable at most but, still, a clever novel slips through, suggesting that in Hebrew the story might be gut-splitting.

So here’s what we get: Amanda (Mandy) Gruber, owner of the Nighty-Night pajama factory (catering to Orthodox Jews), spends unlimited amounts of money on reconstructive surgery.  “Since she was a healthy woman, she went in and out of cosmetic surgeries.  She had already undergone seven such operations, most of them on her face.  Excluding the nose job she had had as a girl. To her satisfaction, her face grew to resemble that of a horse less and less from operation to operation.”  She’s been “breast lifted, stomach flattened, cellulite emptied in the thighs, eyebrow raised, cheekbone implanted, and raised to half-mast in the face and neck.”

The Nighty-Night pajamas (a business she inherited from her mother) have been so successful that there’s always money to spend on another surgery, whatever latest fad she learns about, to wit: “My shoulder blades have become eroded, and I’m having replacements implanted.”  The surgeon, clearly a quack, tells her that “up to recently shoulder blade surgery had been a much more complicated business, since the surgeon had to find the two original shoulder blades which had been absorbed by the back, and to return them to their rightful place, more or less symmetrically, and to sharpen the point of the shoulder blade which had been blunted by time.” It hurts, even to read that passage, even though a quick Google search reveals that, yes, such surgery is possible. But elective?

As Mandy goes under the knife, one of the nurses in the operating room suggests that there are plenty of other cosmetic enhancers available if she doesn’t run out of money.  “A friend of a friend of mine in Ohio had a collarbone implant on both sides to improve her décolletage, and that’s even before what she did to her breasts.  It’s insane what people do to themselves.  I even heard about someone who had the backs of her hands lifted.”   Yes, it is insane what people do to themselves and what countries do to themselves, in this case Israel.  Thus far, Mandy’s spent $68,000 on plastic surgery and plenty more on other frivolous beauty enhancers, such as the $1570 spent on Creme Caviar, she found advertised on the Internet.

In case you are wondering what all these foibles of one of Castel-Bloom’s main characters have to do with the title of her novel, let me explain.  Mandy wonders if she should change the fabric of her line of pajamas, specifically to organic cotton.  Mandy’s daughter (who will eventually inherit the business just as Mandy did from her own mother) wonders if the manufacturing should be moved from Israel to China or somewhere else, but that would displace all the women who sit at their Singer sewing machines sewing, sewing, sewing.  Obviously, these issues give one pause, make one wonder why the title should be Textile, given the rather frivolous character more interested in her own appearance than the appearance of the products her workers manufacture.

There’s another “textile” thread related more directly to issues of Israel’s survival. Mandy’s husband, the inventor Irad Gruber—known particularly for his invention of the spiral escalator—has spent his recent years working for the Israeli Defense Ministry, developing lightweight protective clothing, from spider threads.  He’s already won the Israel Prize for his past work, but the spiders he has been raising have suffered from colony collapse and he’s going to have to find a new source for arachnids to complete his experiments.  Fortunately, he believes he has found the right contact with an American scientist (an Israeli woman) at Ithaca University.

Are you still with me?  Well, Irad’s hijinks in the United States are as comic as his wife’s involvements with plastic surgeons, but this is all I am going to reveal here.

I’ll leave you to discover most of Textile’s rich comedy for yourself.  And the connections between individual and state?  Well, you’ll be pleased to recognize in them our own country’s dysfunction.  Enough to make you want to move to an isolated place like Pitcairn Island.

Orly Castle-Bloom: Textile

Trans. by Dalya Bilu

Feminist Press, 232 pp., $18.95

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail