Two Novels About Israel, by Women

The Al Aksa intifada now entering its fourth year and by now part of Israel’s collective consciousness,forms the basis for Orly Castel-Bloom’s new novel Human Parts (translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu; David Godine, S24.95). The setting is Israel’s freakishly cold and snowy winter of 2001, when terrorist attacks were occurring with alarming frequency, causing the economy to sink. Castel-Bloom, a writer who is known in Israel for her dark views on life there, takes the reader through the lives of a handful of individuals from every level of society. We meet Kati Beit-Halahmi, an impoverished cleaning lady with four children and an unemployed husband, who, unable to afford to heat her apartment, is thrilled to be interviewed about her plight on a television news program; Iris Ventura, a divorced mother of three who, once living a comfortable life with her architect now-ex-husband, cannot pay her bills; the depressed young man Adir, who, fed up with the constant violence, yearns to leave Israel with his Ethiopian girlfriend Tasaro. The president of Israel, Reuven Tekoa, i.e., Ehud Barak, runs around Israel comforting bereaved families, who are dying not only at the hands of terrorists but also from a virulent form of influenza that has accompanied that winter’s terrible weather. He too succumbs to the apocalypse, so exhausting himself that he ends up in the hospital. Everybody, from the most vulnerable to the powerful, is being literally or figuratively—hence the book’s title—blown to bits by what the Israelis euphemistically call Hamatsav, “the situation.”

Castel-Bloom narrates her tale in a flat voice, keeping us at a distance, as if that is the only way she can bear to tell us this awful story. In contrast, Edeet Ravel, places her debut novel Ten Thousand Lovers (Harper Collins paperback, $12.95) in the 1970s, and lets her emotions show, along with her politics. Ravel’s book is about Lily, a young Israeli-born, Canadian bred (like the author) student, who on the first page falls in love with Ami, an army interrogator, who counts a Palestinian among his best friends. As Ami reveals, little by little, what he does in his job, which pays him a handsome living, both Lily and her lover become unnerved. In the end, the couple cannot live with the reality of Ami’s actions. The ending is far from happy. Yet Ravel/Lily, who, in contrast to Castel-Bloom, lets the reader inside her heart, seems to believe that ultimately, good things will happen.