Castel-Bloom, Orly. “An Egyptian Novel”, translated from the Hebrew by Todd Hasak Lowy, Dalkey Archive Press, 2017.
History and Legend
During the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492, seven brothers of the Kastil family (from Castilla) landed on the Gaza coast. Her mother’s side goes back even further to Jews who said “No” to Moses and stayed in Egypt. The family later moved to Israel in the 1950s and settled on a kibbutz from which they were expelled for Stalinism and they moved to Tel Aviv. Writer Orly Castel-Bloom mixes fact with fiction, history with legend as she reimagines the lives of her ancestors.
Orly Castel-Bloom is one of the great writers of Israel whose literature dwells on the compassionate interrogation of human emotion. “An Egyptian Novel” loosely follows the Castel family whose oldest daughter, referred to simply as The Oldest Daughter, resembles the novelist herself. The family, Castel- “the only household not spoken of in the annals of the people of Israel—those who in the great exodus refused Moses and stayed behind in Egypt as slaves.”
When the family finally gets to Israel, they learn that every generation has some kind of affliction. The elder Castels are heartbroken and disillusioned by kibbutz life and the fighting over ideology tears them apart. the next generations who once found meaning in a socialized society find it moving in the direction of American style commercialism. The members of the family have to struggle to connect with each other and with the larger world and that is not only difficult but also sometimes quite dangerous.
While the book is filled with gloomy situations, nothing is ever without hope. is rarely gloomy and never hopeless. We read about lives that have dealt with shattered dreams and ideologies that have soured over time but we also read about finding grace and sweetness and real satisfaction in life in Israel in 2015.
I experienced many of the same situations when I moved to Israel way back when and then from city to kibbutz and back to city again. Ideologies, like people, change.