It is exciting when, based really on nothing more than vaguely remembered praise and the cover blurb, you pick up a book by a new author and find yourself immediately hooked. The Best Place on Earth is a collection of short stories by Ayelet Tsabari an Israeli of Yemeni descent, who now lives in Canada. She paints a confronting, intimate portrait of modern-day Israel, its contradictions and complexities, all against the backdrop of ever-present militarism and violence.
In Eilat, two teenage friends hitchhike to Sinai for their last summer before army service and just weeks before the negotiated military withdrawal. But what was supposed to be a carefree break ends up challenging one girl’s most intimate sense of who she really is.
In Brit Maleh, Tsabaru explores the changing attitudes of young Israelis towards religion and tradition through the eyes of a grandmother who has travelled to Toronto to see her daughter and her first grandson. And in Gimlet a young army medic casually runs a black market in forged sick notes (gimelin) whilst haphazardly maintaining her relationship with her boyfriend, struggling to cope with life in a frontline unit in Gaza.
Below Sea Level sees a quiet young Israeli travelling from his home in Montreal to introduce his fiancé to his estranged father, a handsome, tough, decorated Army veteran, now living in the desert close to the Dead Sea. It’s a meeting that renews old fears but also reveals a subtle change in the dynamics of their relationship.
Tsabaru doesn’t pull her punches. In precise, matter of fact prose, she presents a world of racism, casual sex, drugs and latent brutality running parallel with one of tradition, friendship and driving sense of duty. Whilst each story is highly individual the collection has at its heart the often fraught questions of identity and of belonging.
The Best Place in the World by Ayelet Tsabari is published by HarperCollins