Orly Castel-Bloom's "Ummi Fi Shurl"

Resource Kit by
Melissa Weininger

Module Content

Introduction

Introduction

Orly Castel-Bloom was born in Tel Aviv to parents who had immigrated to Israel from Egypt in 1949. She has been an important voice in contemporary Israeli letters and her innovative work has influenced the direction of postmodern Hebrew literature. In 2015 her latest book, An Egyptian Novel, won the Sapir Prize, Israel’s highest literary honor. The story “Ummi Fi Shurl” was included in her 1993 collection, Involuntary Stories (Sipurim bilti retsoniyim).

“Ummi Fi Shurl” is characteristic of Castel-Bloom’s style. A short-short story defined as much by what it does not say as by what it says, it explores large themes with an economy of language and tackles serious issue with absurdism. It sketches a scene in the life of a mentally ill woman who steps outside to get some air and encounters a homeless woman under a bench who claims to be her mother.

In a short space, the story does many things: It raises questions about language and identity, through a brief, circular conversation between the narrator and the old woman in Arabic. It explores the issue of motherhood in the narrator’s encounter with the mother-figure, whom she denies. It raises the specter of mental illness by the character’s own description of her emotional state. And it touches on social issues, gender, and class, topics often marginalized in Israeli literature. This kit offers resources related to some of the major themes of the story—including language, Mizrahi identity, and motherhood—as well as comparative resources for reading it in the context of world literatures.

Cover image: Photograph of Castel-Bloom by Ulf Andersen. Courtesy of Ulf Andersen/Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images.