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:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail