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Book review: The Best Place on Earth, by Ayelet Tsabari

Reviewed by Aaron Kreuter

The Best Place on Earth, Ayelet Tsabari’s debut collection of short stories, brings readers directly into the messy, human heart of life in Israel. Tsabari — an Israeli of Yemeni descent now living in Canada — tackles a wide number of issues, from the different social stratas of Tel Aviv to living in a country that is constantly at war, to the varied ways that Israelis of different ages, origins, and genders learn to deal with the daily realities of violence, segregation, and death.

As is evident in these stories, Tsabari knows Israel intimately: from the urban streets of Tel Aviv to the quiet outer suburbs, from the Old City of Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley, the stories are filled with the scenes and smells of everyday life of the small Middle-Eastern country. However, the stories are not just cold explorations of Israeli society; they are, in fact, anything but. Tsabari is able to get to the hard, emotional core of a stunning variety of human experiences and relationships, including adolescent girls, artsy boys and hyper-masculine fathers, old lovers, and more. The amount of human connection on display here is astounding. The stories are fierce, startlingly emotional, and teeming with sexual energy, but they are also deeply empathetic, quietly political, and brilliantly executed.