This weekend, I gave into a guilty pleasure and devoured a book, something I don't do often due to my many obligations and projects. However, the book devouring was well worth it as I finally read The Best Place on Earth by Ayelet Tsabari. I first met her at the Jewish Book Council's Sami Rohr Prize Speaker Series at the Memphis Jewish Community Center several months ago. Although I initially felt a little out of place, I soon got over that feeling and enjoyed the night while learning quite a bit about the Jewish faith and culture. I dug into her book during this three day weekend and the short version of this review is - everyone needs to purchase this book. Seriously.
The Best Place on Earth is eleven short stories involving Mizrahi Jews, yet each story tells of a different aspect of not only Israel but also of the world. From Canada to India, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the stories touch upon family and friendship, and first love and heartbreak. More importantly, the stories reflect upon identity within a culture and religion that is very much part of a pillar of history of this planet. Tsabari weaves these stories with a voice that smells of lemon trees and spices that is strong and of a storyteller. She tells these stories to welcome us into her world with hope that we will want to know more.
I won't go into each story, yet I will talk about my favourite story in the collection: The Poets in the Kitchen Window. Uri lives in quiet Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, amid the sounds of sirens and bombs. His sister, free spirited Yasmin, has returned from spending time in India, providing somewhat relief for Uri against their broken father and mentally unavailable mother. Tsabari give us a view into the bond between shy poet brother and Bohemian older sister as they face the knowledge that every day could be their last. However, the siblings act upon such knowledge in different ways: while Uri writes poems in secret, Yasmin continues to live in the same vein of carelessness as before. Through Tsabari's words, we can smell the cigarette smoke, feel the fear with Uri as he hears sirens while purchasing lunch, and nod with approval as to the sibling bond that is much stronger than the bombs that fall. This story is Tsabari's finest in my not so humble opinion.
I truly do hope that Tsabari will continue to write more books; hers is a voice that deserves more than one book as representation.
It was great meeting you, Ayelet. Thank you for your words.