Orly Castel-Bloom’s ‘Dolly City:’ A Sharp-Witted Look at Israeli Society

Orly Castel-Bloom's novel is not for the faint of heart.

The Israeli novelist Orly Castel-Bloom’s 1992 novel Dolly City isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a car wreck you can’t tear your eyes from.

Its first chapter begins with the nauseating dissection, barbecuing, and ingesting of a pet goldfish and ends with the discovery of a baby boy in a plastic bag. In this novel, which announced Castel-Bloom’s arrival as one of the preeminent voices of contemporary Israeli literature, there are no rules or morals — and there isn’t much sense either.

Dolly is a doctor who lives in a 400-story apartment building called Dolly City. She eats antidepressants like trail mix and gives herself electroshock therapy. The trains in this “most demented city in the world” all run to Dachau — but “not that Dachau, just some old plank with the name Dachau written on it, a kind of memorial.” There is even an anti-anti-Semite quarter “where the Holocaust survivors crucify a different goy every day.”

Nothing in contemporary Israeli society escapes Castel-Bloom’s wit and scorn, and symbolism reigns supreme. Dolly carves a map of Israel onto her son’s back to claim sovereignty over him. She asks: “What kind of a thing is motherhood if you can’t take care of your child nonstop, one hundred percent?”

Dolly becomes a runaway obsessive of a mother. “My concern for his health knew no bounds. It was voracious, it was grotesque.” She performs needless surgeries on him to combat imaginary ailments. At one point, Dolly prowls the halls of a German orphanage, scalpel in hand, looking for an infant who may have a suitable kidney to transplant into her son, an utterly gruesome scene that ends with Dolly’s realization that her baby didn’t need a transplant anyway.

Orly Castel-Bloom was raised in Tel Aviv by French-speaking, Egyptian-born Jews. Her writing bears some resemblance to that of fellow Tel Avivian Etgar Keret, who said of this novel that Castel-Bloom “takes all the fears and aggression of one of the most violent regions on this blue planet, wraps it up in an incredible and unique imaginative plot … and the result is literally breathtaking.”

It’s true. There are scenes in this novel that will have you reading through shielded eyes. It’s worth it. Don’t look away.

Ready to start the novel? Grab your copy of Dolly City here.

Intrigued? Read an excerpt ofDolly City.

Great Jewish Books


Discover More


He could kill a lion or topple a temple with his bare hands, but succumbed to the love of a treacherous woman: many wild traditions circulated about the first Jewish superhero.

Sholem Aleichem

One of the most beloved writers of Yiddish literature, his work inspired the hit musical "Fiddler on the Roof."

The Shunamite Woman: A Model of Radical Empathy

Because she had a special relationship with the prophet Elisha, her child was miraculously conceived and miraculously resurrected.

Where To See Yiddish Theater Today

A guide to Yiddish performances and festivals around the world.

7 Holocaust Films You Should See

These under-the-radar movies about the Shoah are affecting, powerful and nuanced.

10 Holocaust Books You Should Read

Though not as well known as Anne Frank's diary or Elie Wiesel's works, these texts will increase your understanding of the Shoah.

Five Yiddish Films You Can Stream Right Now for Free

A sampler of Yiddish films (with English subtitles) on the Internet.

Jewish Jokes

Great traditional Jewish jokes.