The protagonist has Egyptian roots going back many generations: on her father’s side, to the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492 when seven brothers of the Kastil family, from Castilla, landed on the Gaza coast after many trials and tribulations. Her mother’s side goes back even further - 3,000 years before that - for she is a descendant of the only family that Jewish history has ignored: the one that said 'No' to Moses and stayed in Egypt. This family migrated to Israel in the 1950s and settled on a kibbutz, but they were soon expelled for Stalinism, and moved to Tel Aviv.
Mixing historical and biographical facts, made-up legends plus other fictions and exaggerations, Castel-Bloom writes an unconventional saga of her family, the Kastils. As in other sagas, there are family meals and get-togethers, deaths and funerals, sayings and stories, and things that are not to be mentioned because they disgrace the family. But here these elements all slip and slide sideways into parody and the absurd.
In this colorful book, a series of deaths becomes truly comic. But ultimately, it is about ruin, the downfall of ideals and great dreams, and the irrelevance of innocence in Israel today. With great daring, Castel-Bloom takes her enormous talent to new heights.
ENGLISH TRANSLATION AVAILABLE (for publishers only).
In this book, Orly
Castel-Bloom is testing her strength in a classical narrative and a traditional family saga, but as always with Castel-Bloom, nothing is what it appears to be at first sight. The conventional family story veers into original and untamed paths… In this story of hers, the author broadens the canvas of Hebrew literature and in a unique manner she lays out a decidedly Israeli story, one which she has never told before.
The Sapir Prize Committee, January 2016
Her … best book … The
book is Castel-Bloom’s bravest … Castel-Bloom’s talent is peerless … A novel
that sacrifices the factual truth for the much more meaningful ecstatic one.
Take, for example, “The Leveraging Counter Girl,” one of the novel’s most
touching stories, a fragment so rich with emotion it could’ve easily been spun
into a novel all of its own … The book is rarely gloomy and never hopeless. It
is, to quote another wise writer, a manual for living with defeat, a book about
life under the weight of a thousand shattered dreams and soured ideologies,
about finding grace and sweetness and real satisfaction among the ruins of a
fallen Eden, which is what life in Israel in 2015 is and what life as part of a
family, any family, has always been and shall forever be.
Beautiful… The parts [of the book] are
organized with tenderness and irony, going beyond chronology... Enchanting.
An audacious family novel which proves that the modern generation of the
Israeli literature is doing well … One should not forget the outstanding
literary audacity of the author, who since the release of Dolly City in 1997, has
abandoned all narrative codes to create her own unclassifiable writing style … Gravity
alternates with Craze; historical scenes with snapshots of the present. Family
dramas told in a marvelous fairy tale way, where a Jewish parent falls in love
with a Muslim during the Egyptian spring. More than just a mosaic, this novel
offers a game of a panoramic scale, between blur and clarity, between a
close-up and a long shot. A 360-degrees picture of the eclectic community
between settlement and exile.
and often funny … Masterful interlacing of genres.
Monde des Livres
[The novel] breaks
away from the family saga to testify ideals and hopes in a subtly ironic tone,
but also to pay tribute to the Jews of Egypt… This is a declaration of love
clear-headed, eccentric and precise … A touching profoundness which turns every
story into a novel within a novel ... A kaleidoscope of emotions.
Orly Castel-Bloom’s particular gift is bringing to life some unforgettable characters.
Every character presents a story of a small part
of the Jewish people, in all their diversity … This kaleidoscope allows the
reader to walk trough Egypt of the Pharaohs, Israel of today, Spain during the
time of the expulsion of Jews ... The tone is light, the background is serious,
and the result - surprisingly
Orly Castel-Bloom is no slave to literary conventions … It is precisely in her most autobiographical novel that she casts off all restraints and obligations … She fluctuates between absolute lunacy and lucid moments of genius … Castel-Bloom’s most radical work to date … A wild, eccentric and brilliant literary presence over the years, as well as her latest novel.
Castel-Bloom portrays her
characters superbly … Even the secondary characters – those who pop up and then
immediately vanish – are most intriguing … Although the roots of the family are
deeply planted in Egypt, there are few aspects of being Israeli that are not
scrutinized here, frequently with implicit criticism. The bottom line is that
you will have a hard time finding family stories that are more unusual, or
Superbly designed and polished … An intriguing, appealing combination of dramatic events and marginal details, along with gossip, whimsy, parody and hyperbole, at times macabre and at others satirical … The beauty is that clichéd themes morph, in Castel-Bloom’s abrasive writing, into a multicolored, carnival-like arrangement … Her irony is subtle … She succeeds in drawing the reader along after her, interested and astonished … A unique reading experience.
Castel-Bloom has generated the latest great revolution in Hebrew prose … She has done this … through an eruption of genius … during which she has written eight books, and at the end of which Hebrew literature has changed beyond recognition. To my mind, there’s no more central woman writing in Hebrew today.
For 25 years she has been rattling Hebrew literature, showing what happens when her unique point of view confronts Israeli reality. The result: astonishing books that are both funny and horrifying … Castel-Bloom makes no concessions to anyone … She has replaced the grotesquery and the verbal acrobatics of her early days with sober realism … [and] describes slices of the life of her ancestors like under the light of an operating theater.
The minimalism of the text is an unconventional way of handling autobiographical materials … It is counter-nostalgic, at a time when autobiography has become an Israeli epidemic … Castel-Bloom doesn’t cultivate pathos, she takes a clear look at the prosaic and commonplace.
A mind unlike any other in Hebrew literature … The historical background is a wild and complex parody of every family and Zionist ethos under the sun.
Castel-Bloom has become involved in her new book. She expresses readiness to meet the world, to play with everyone, and not only to be that phenomenal blind sharpshooter. The Egyptian Novel is a heroic book … The intentions of this novel are serious and very committed, in their depiction of the waning of a generation ... Actually, the narrator is adopting a Faulkneresque pathos here … Perhaps one of the peaks of Castel-Bloom’s oeuvre.
To my mind, Orly Castel-Bloom’s The Egyptian Novel
is actually a Tel Aviv novel … Writing a family novel is a considerable feat.
Tel Aviv is the urban space in which Castel-Bloom has planted her family tree,
and the city embraces the tree with a great deal of love.
Author Haggai Linik, Time Out
The most impressive and enjoyable Hebrew novel I have read this year (three times, in fact) is An Egyptian Novel by Orly Castel-Bloom.
Author Shoham Smith, Walla
The Egyptian Novel assures you of a journey through an
unknown land. All of the rules that dictated the nature of other novels you may
have read fall down here like a house of cards … A stunning book that raises
questions and quandaries about our history in this place, and our personal
A historical, autobiographical, family
story that smashes to smithereens everything that you ever knew about
historical, autobiographical, family novels.
to integrate social criticism and a sense of existential despair with
ostensibly nonchalant humor gives us a reading experience that engraves itself
on the memory.
A virtuoso writer who has been called the enfant terrible of Hebrew letters … A magician with words, she is perhaps the writer who is closest to the title of “celeb” in our tiny country… Castel-Bloom in her typically playful style, which treats language and ideas as if they were her own, demonstrates again that we have excellent feminine literature in Hebrew.