Twenty Girls to Envy Me: Selected Poems of Orit Gidali

Israeli poet Orit Gidali explores politics, religion and community in Twenty Girls to Envy Me. Of particular note is Gidali's treatment of motherhood beyond cultural norms that equate maternity with happiness. Her poetry shares personal reflections about being a mother that are complicated by ongoing violence that affects generation after generation, not just in Israel but globally. She demonstrates how this external landscape shapes domestic life so that even moments of great peace and joy are fraught with conflict. Yet she knows awareness is not enough to drive action or bring about necessary change.

The poem "Heir to the Curfew" opens with her son's hair: "that I let time pass, your hair lengthens, bound in my hand while you sleep." The pleasantness of this intimate moment shifts when she sees that his hair will be "cut short, like the time from here to the army." In this way, she seamlessly moves from one reality of motherhood to another, less pleasant aspect: mandatory service for Israeli young adults. The juxtaposition continues, of nursing her infant and a cycle of violence at odds with domesticity, of a military uniform that smells of laundry. Even as she warns her son against participating in this cycle, "she, occupied by [his] sweetness, is not rising up to do anything." In this life-affirming moment, she mourns her ambivalence, recognizing that her focus on home may prevent her from taking action in the outside world. Gidali's poems offer timely criticism of such apathy without being scathing, leaving readers with a prevailing sense of hope. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

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