Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Best Place on Earth: Stories by Ayelet Tsabari

Author Ayelet Tsabari is an Israeli of Yemeni descent who now lives in Toronto. It's Rosh Hashanah tonight, a good time to write about Tsabari's collection of short stories, The Best Place on Earth.

Women serving their obligatory military years in the Israeli Defense Forces comes up in almost all of these stories. There's something fascinating about this situation, which is almost unique in the world.

"The Gulf War had ended a few months ago, and for a brief, hopeful moment it seemed like there would never be another war. Karin was enlisting in September, predestined for the infantry corps, which was exactly what she wanted, to be surrounded by cute boys in uniform." ('Borders')

"She had inherited her father's temper, his intensity and his charm. This temper, her contempt for authority, had made her army service insufferable: a series of trials, detentions and reassignments." ('The Best Place on Earth')

"I glance at the clock and gasp, jump out of bed, still in my black miniskirt and push-up bra, a dangly earring caught in my hair. I grab my uniform from the floor, a khaki pile I'd kicked off last night before I went out. In the bathroom I pop two ibuprofens and wash my face with cold water. My olive skin looks yellow this morning, and my straightened hair is starting to curl. I quickly apply some mascara, eyeliner and lipstick. I pick through the heap of clothes on the floor, looking for my cap. Finally, I find it in the laundry basket, all squished, and stuff it in the loop on the shoulder of my uniform." ('Casualties')

Amidst the mundane lives of these young women, however, violence and death are always present.

'The Poets in the Kitchen Window,' is set during the bombing of Tel Aviv that began a few hours after Operation Desert Storm started in Iraq. An older sister, who has become somewhat of a hippie since finishing her military service, comes home to her family in Ramat Gan when her mother is hospitalized. Yasmin encourages her little brother Uri to find solace in creative writing. She brings him a book of Roni Someck's poetry from the public library.

"That night, he lay in bed, mouthing the poems to himself. He had never read poetry like that, hadn't known it existed: the verse written in an easy, fluid language, sometimes even slang, and often about everyday things. Yet it was beautiful, haunting, filled with such passion that Uri felt seized by it himself, unable to put the book down, too wired to fall asleep. The back of the book said that Someck was born in Baghdad -- an Iraqi poet! -- and lived in Ramat Gan, which both pleased and stunned Uri, the idea that a real poet lived and walked and found inspiration in these dull suburban streets."

There's an intensity to Tsabari's stories that probably mimics the experience of life in contemporary Israel. I loved the glimpses they gave into the inner and outer worlds of her characters.

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