Review of ‘The Art of Leaving’ by Ayelet Tsabari

In the opening pages of her memoir, Ayelet Tsabari’s father promises that he will one day publish her book. Ayelet, 10-years-old at the time, “had been writing ever since [she] learned the alphabet.” Even at that young age, the author’s love for writing was developing into a passion that would nourish and sustain her on peripatetic travels around the world. It is during these travels that the author seeks to answer the question that never fails to accompany her – where is home?

In The Art of Leaving by Ayelet Tsabari (Random House, February 2019) we witness the transformation of the author’s childhood growing up in a large Yemeni family in a Tel Aviv suburb into a collection of prize-winning short stories. Also serving as background are her unruly service in the Israeli Defense Forces; her extended sojourns on the beaches of India and Thailand; her first marriage; and the awakening, later, of maternal instincts in Canada.

Throughout her journeys, Ayelet is constantly leaving, from one short-term residence to the next. “Leaving is the only thing I know how to do,” the author writes. “That seemed to be the one stable thing in my life, the ritual of picking up, throwing out or giving away the little I have, packing and taking off. That was what home had become for me.”

Yet, home is also her family in Israel. The house her father built with his own hands and the Yemeni traditions of her mother and grandmother anchor Ayelet’s life, drawing her back again and again to Israel. After searching “for a suitable definition for home,” she admits to her brother, “I have many homes.”

Ayelet begins to question whether she should continue her extensive traveling and maintain the nomadic lifestyle she so willingly chose.

“It was safer to keep going than to stand still. …  Sometimes I wondered what my life would have been like if I had chosen to stay, if I had pursued the journalism career I once had, if I had lived close to my family. If I hadn’t been so terrified of staying in one place.”

Sadly, Ayelet’s father passed away before he could see his daughter’s work in print. He would not live to see Ayelet’s award-winning debut collection of short stories, The Best Place on Earth, and he would not see the publication of her equally prize-worthy memoir.

“Home is collecting stories, writing them down, and retelling them,” the author tells us. “Home is writing, and it grounds, sustains, and nourishes me. Home is the page. The one place I always, always come back to.”

Ayelet’s memoir, with her eloquent and captivating command of both language and narrative, stays in our minds long after we’ve read the last page. The book leaves us anxious to share the next stages of Ayelet Tsabari’s literary travels.

Ayelet Tsabari’s debut collection of short stories, The Best Place on Earth, won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the Edward Lewis Wallant Award and was long listed to the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Excerpts from The Art of Leaving have won a National Magazine Award and a Western Magazine Award in Canada, and The New Quarterly ‘s Edna Staebler award. Ayelet teaches at the University of King’s College’s MFA in Creative Nonfiction, at Tel Aviv University, and at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.

About the Author
Ellis Shuman made aliya to Jerusalem as a teenager, served in the IDF, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives on Moshav Neve Ilan. Ellis is the author of ‘The Burgas Affair’ – a crime thriller set in Israel and Bulgaria; ‘Valley of Thracians’ - a suspense novel set in Bulgaria; and 'The Virtual Kibbutz' - a collection of short stories. His writing has appeared in The Times of Israel, The Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Insider, and on a wide range of Internet websites. Ellis lived with his wife for two years in Bulgaria, and blogs regularly about Israel, Bulgaria, books, and writing.