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Ayelet Tsabari's The Best Place on Earth

TsabariThe Best Place on Earth, winner of the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and editors’ choice of the New York Times Book Review, is a debut collection of short stories by Israeli author Ayelet Tsabari.  Reminiscent of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, the stories reflect the desire for love and connection in a world torn by strife and uncertainty.

Stories are character-centered and often deal with an adolescent or young adult. Usually the narrator, like the author, is a woman of Yemenite descent. Tsabari masterfully captures the essence of what it is like to be young. For example, in the opening story,” Tikkun” (Hebrew for “repair” or “rectify”), a man in his 30s spots the free-spirited woman with whom he had an affair. Ten years have passed since that time. The narrator explains:

Natalie and I were twenty-two when we met…We felt we were a part of a generation and that life had been made just for us and we’d never be sick and never grow old and nothing bad would happen to us. Now, more than a decade later, Rabin is dead after being assassinated at a peace rally; suicide bombs explode in buses and cafes…Natalie is a married Orthodox and I’m unemployed and dating a twenty-four-year-old.

Similarly, in “The Poets in the Kitchen Window,” Iraqi missile attacks are a backdrop for this Bildungsroman. In it, a 13-year-old boy harshly judges his globe-trotting sister after he is left contend with a tragic family situation amidst nights spent in a bomb shelter. Tsabari masterfully tells the story from the boy’s point of view while allowing the reader to understand the reasons for his sister’s rootlessness.

These are but two of 11 beautifully-told stories. The mark of a fine writer is the ability to transport the reader to another time and place and to compel him to feel compassion for the characters the author creates. Tsabari has succeeded at both these feats while evoking daily life in modern-day Israel.

The Best Place on Earth is a stellar collection not to be missed.

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