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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Dolly City

Orly Castel-Bloom

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To purchase Dolly City

Title: Dolly City
Author: Orly Castel-Bloom
Genre: Novel
Written: 1992 (Eng.1997)
Length: 165 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: Dolly City - US
Dolly City - UK
Dolly City - Canada
Dolly City - France
Dolly City - Deutschland
  • Hebrew title: דולי סיטי
  • Translated by Dalya Bilu
  • The 2010 Dalkey Archive Press edition includes an Afterword by Karen Grumberg

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Our Assessment:

A- : arrestingly hyperkinetic (and grotesque)

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Forward . 17/11/2010 Jacob Silverman
Tablet . 20/10/2010 Liel Leibovitz

  From the Reviews:
  • "The work is daring and sometimes shocking, its humor the epitome of grotesque, but it lacks the connective empathy of the authorís more conventional novel, Human Parts (...). Even so, this hand grenade of a book still provides its pleasures; like a feral animal, it requires that you keep your distance, but there is beauty in its ferocity." - Jacob Silverman, Forward

  • "Even as the plot spirals from one horror to another (...) the novelís overall spirit is one of deep-seated humanism. In a society so heavily encumbered by the weight of war and remembrance, Castel-Bloom insists, the only decent form of exorcism is shamanic, absurdist, disturbing, but, ultimately, cleansing." - Liel Leibovitz, Tablet

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Dolly City is a hyperkinetic surreal fiction narrated by a very driven woman. She studied medicine in Katmandu ("study medicine in Katmandu for all I care, as long as you study" her dying father had carelessly said, and the literal-minded Dolly immediately fastened on the idea), but she can't (officially) practice in Israel -- though that doesn't stop her from her experimentation and the occasional unlicensed practice of her craft. Typically, though, for example, for a while: "I earned my living exclusively from enemas. I became a real expert in the field". Yes, Dolly City often gets literally visceral, and wallows in a lot more than just excrement.
       Doctor Dolly, as she styles herself, lives in Dolly City, a surreal stand-in for contemporary Israel. She lives in a four-hundred-story tower, everyone seems to be on anti-depressants, and for a while the French regularly bomb the city ("for no apparent reason"): it's an unreal nightmarish place that obviously affects every aspect of her life and mind: Doctor Dolly is a product of Dolly City.
       Dolly's frenzy begins to reach its fevered pitch when she becomes a mother -- of sorts. Her efforts to get her dog properly and quickly buried go awry and she finds herself with an infant on her hands (this is a fiction full of this kind of seemingly random cause-and-effect). She becomes all maternal -- but Dolly is of the (insanely) overprotective and worrying sort -- and her background in medicine and animal experimentation do not help: she can't keep from 'treating' and examining him, beginning a vicious cycle:

But even though the child was a hundred percent healthy, I decided to cut him open. I succumbed to the chronic doubt from which I suffer. I wanted to check and see with my own eyes that everything was really in order, and then to check on my checkup, and then to make sure there hadn't been any slip ups in the re-examination, and so on and so forth.
       And so she keeps cutting the poor little kid open, and doing all sorts of medical procedures. Worried that he only has one kidney she gets him an additional one -- though "a few dozen babies had kicked the bucket" in the messy process -- only then to realize that he had two all along (leading her, of course, to perform yet another operation, to remove one of the excess kidneys).
       Yes, Dolly City is not for the squeamish (or, I'd (strongly) suggest, parents of infants); there's actually quite a bit of humor to this too, but it's definitely of the macabre sort.
       Castel-Bloom's narrative moves with pinball randomness, speed, and sudden shifts. The narrator recognizes the insanity of some of her actions:
My concern for his health knew no bounds. It was voracious, it was grotesque. In the middle of an operation on his leg I would discover problems in the groin. So I would close up the place I'd opened, and open the place that was still closed, and so on and so forth, for hours on end. Until I reached a stage where every inch of his body was open. And then I would pass out.
     It was an impossible life, but I lived it nonetheless.
       Among her solutions ?
I figured out the way to fight my insanity: ignore it.
       But denial isn't much of a solution for her, not here, where she's constantly confronted with so much -- and: "I knew that there were no limits to reality's imagination, no limits at all."
       Castel-Bloom pushes at those limits, at a frenetic pace. Dolly City presents a warped picture of contemporary Israel, but the distortion is only one of grotesque magnification, the narrator the personification of the guilt-ridden, terribly defensive, over-protective, self-destructive, self-sure, near schizophrenic state that seems to tear itself in all different directions even as it also curls in completely on itself.
       The narrative covers years, but the stunted narrator is limited in any growth while the boy's escape from his mother's clutches only gets so far: real progress seems near impossible, and the best the characters can do is stagger (or hurtle) about, driven to acts of desperation.
       Littered with (often seemingly random) observations and thoughts -- whatever occurs to the narrator, at the time -- there's a good deal of very clever stuff here, some almost too easily lost among all these asides:
All the trains in Dolly City rushed to Dachau and back again. Not that Dachau, just some old plank with the name Dachau written on it, a kind of memorial.
       Both messy jumble -- Castel-Bloom piles it on thick and fast -- and clinical dissection, Dolly City conveys the modern condition -- and especially that in Israel -- remarkably well. It seems haphazard, and it's often obscenely raw, but Castel-Bloom stays true to what is a quite inspired vision.
       Tough to take, but incredibly rich.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 October 2010

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Dolly City: Reviews: Orly Castel-Bloom: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Israeli author Orly Castel-Bloom (אורלי קסטל-בלום) was born in 1960.

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