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The Best Place on Earth

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Confident, original and humane, the stories in The Best Place on Earth are peopled with characters at the crossroads of nationalities, religions and communities: expatriates, travellers, immigrants and locals.

In the powerfully affecting opening story, “Tikkun,” a chance meeting between a man and his former lover carries them through near tragedy and into unexpected peace. In “Casualties,” Tsabari takes us into the military—a world every Israeli knows all too well—with a brusque, sexy young female soldier who forges medical leave forms to make ends meet. Poets, soldiers, siblings and dissenters, the protagonists here are mostly Israelis of Mizrahi background (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent), whose stories have rarely been told in literature. In illustrating the lives of those whose identities swing from fiercely patriotic to powerfully global, The Best Place on Earth explores Israeli history as it illuminates the tenuous connections—forged, frayed and occasionally destroyed—between cultures, between generations and across the gulf of transformation and loss.

224 pages, Hardcover

First published March 19, 2013

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About the author

Ayelet Tsabari

16 books187 followers
AYELET TSABARI was born in Israel to a large family of Yemeni descent. She is the author of the memoir in essays The Art of Leaving, finalist for the Writer’s Trust Hilary Weston Prize, winner of the Canadian Jewish Literary Award for memoir, and an Apple Books and Kirkus Review Best Book of 2019. Her first book, 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. The book was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a Kirkus Review Best Book of 2016, and has been published internationally.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 207 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,924 reviews35.4k followers
February 16, 2016
Ayelet Tsabari, lives in Canada - writes in English - and is an Israeli Yemenite author.

"Tikkun, is the title of the first story, giving a hint as to the theme of the entire collection.

"Tikkun olam", in Jewish learning, literally means "world repair", which has come to
connote social action and social justice. The goal of repair can only be effected by humans, separating what is holy from the created world, thus depriving the physical world of its very existence...in other words, returning to a world before disaster and sin.

So, when I first saw "Tikkun", as the title for the opening story...I prepared myself for
old-style religious stories ( with words of wisdom to decipher).
Surprise, surprise: these stories are not 'religious-in-nature' at all. These are modern
stories centered around the culture of life in Israel today...with immigration themes.....
ordinary people... and extraordinary people...( Yemeni, Moroccan, and Iraqi backgrounds)...stories with struggles & conflicts, global stories of courage, hardships,
loss, death, loneliness, acceptance, abandonment, coming-of-age, the military service, mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts, friends, lovers, married couples, political dialogues, Jerusalem, the markets, cafes, (Sephardi exotic foods in particular), smoking, the clothing, coffee.... ( lots of nostalgia for me!) ... The smells, energy, temperatures...and my own memories of "The Best Place on Earth".

These stories are down to earth....contemporary human complexities -
enjoyable effortless reading -beautiful --written with warmth and compassion! Particularly timely!

Thank You Random House Publishing, Ayelet Tsabari, and Netgalley

Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,330 followers
February 23, 2016
A very high 4 stars. "The Best Place on Earth" was a great surprise. Ayelet Tsabari grew up in Israel, and her family was of Yemeni descent. She did her military service in Israel, traveled extensively in Europe and Asia, and has since settled in Canada. That background is important because it infuses all of her stories which depict modern life in Israel and the life of dislocated Israelis. The stories are at times set in Israel, conveying the political and cultural complexities of modern life in Israel. Other stories are set outside of Israel -- including Canada -- depicting Israelis who have moved away and their complex relationship with the country they have left. Tsabari has a simple writing style, but her stories are potent -- strongly evoking the emotions of her characters, the feel of the different places and the sense of dislocation that comes from living in different places. It's the kind of fiction I love -- it took me somewhere unfamiliar and made it real through rich stories and strong characters. If you don't naturally gravitate towards short stories, I still strongly recommend The Best Place on Earth. There is something complete and deep about each of these stories. I can't really identify favourites in the collection -- they all worked for me. I really hope that Tsabari has another book in the works because I will definitely read it. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Debbie.
433 reviews2,745 followers
March 31, 2017
Well, I’ve just been in Israel, with short stopovers in Toronto, British Columbia, and India! But of course, I’ve gone there without leaving my comfy couch. What a fantastic trip! I didn’t have a clue that I wanted to go to Israel, not a clue.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a stronger sense of place. It’s like the setting is the main character. Funny, I usually couldn’t care less about story location: “Yeah, they’re in the city, oh now they’re in the country, blah blah blah…” It’s character and plot that reel me in (and I’m a big whiner if there is too much description). Here, in this collection of short stories, it’s a totally different deal. In clear, succinct, and unembellished prose, the super skilled writer describes the surroundings—the colors, the smells, the sounds, the climate—so that I felt RIGHT THERE, a tourist, a fly on the wall, taking it all in. She uses beautiful imagery as well; very acid trippy.

And this was a wild first for me—I found myself grabbing my phone and googling the towns. I wanted maps, I wanted pictures. I wanted study aids! I wanted food for fantasies! Hell, and this really cracks me up (because I’m pretty sure I’ll never go to Israel, being an ancient scaredy cat with no tolerance for heat): I went to Airbnb and looked at places to rent! Man, were they nice--and they were cheap! I had brief fantasies of vacationing there, knowing in my heart that it would never happen. I just really had to see what the insides of houses looked like.

These stories are terrific. They aren’t loud, or full of catastrophes meant to add suspense and shock. Instead, they are stories about relationships, and small but significant “ah ha” moments, as the characters meander through life, trying to figure out their place in the world. Several stories feature Israelis who emigrate to Canada (and in one case, India), and we get to see how they fare after they’ve moved away from their homeland. The author herself is an Israeli of Yemeni descent, and she now lives and teaches college in Canada—so she knows of what she speaks.

I just found it all fascinating. Going into this, I didn’t have a special interest in Israel and I didn’t know much about life there. I knew that women, too, have to serve in the armed forces, and I knew there are suicide bombers to worry about. Those facts of life are woven throughout the stories, and both the matter-of-fact-ness and the fear that people there feel are conveyed beautifully. The characters aren’t super heroes or wildly interesting, but instead, they are very realistic and relatable.

My only complaint is that there were too many Hebrew words whose meanings I couldn’t figure out. It wasn’t a showstopper, but it was annoying.

This book reminded me of another favorite collection of short stories called The Other Language—also strong on setting (most stories are set in Italy) and strong on women struggling in relationships.

Bottom line: I always looked forward to picking this book up, and I never looked down at the bottom of the page to find out what percentage I’d read—two telltale signs that I was totally sold. Highly recommend.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,396 followers
May 4, 2016
Israeli fiction has had the effect on me of a loud, rambunctious, youthful group thoughtlessly jostling me aside as they enter a crowded bus. I look at it from under lowered eyes, trying without success not to judge. From my white middle-class American insulation I find the colorful opinions and actions of the Israeli diaspora “just too intense for me.” Gradually, I shuffle aside to accommodate the spirited group, listening without effort. When they eventually get off the bus before I do, there is a space where they were, and the silence feels empty.

I was looking forward to being seduced by this collection. The first story, “Tikkun,” threatened my resolve. It slapped me awake, moral nerve endings jangling. What people are these, I ask, reviving my indignity. I think now the story was put first to do just that: these stories are going to rock your world, it seems to be saying, so be prepared to realign your carpenter’s level.

All the stories seem to have a Yemeni connection, the characters descendants of Yemeni immigrants to Israel. Lili and Lana in “Say it Again, Say Something Else” are two bruised girls not really ready for the world but trying to act as though they are. In “Casualties” a young military officer plays at hardness, nonchalance, and devil-may-care until the reality in her life calls her cellphone.

Two stories in the middle of the collection seemed technically and tonally perfect, gathering the angst and confusion of the culture. “Invisible” features a Filipina caregiver overstaying her visa while caring for an aged grandmother not her own, her distant extended family, and a demobbed soldier who has seen action. In “A Sign of Harmony” a young Israeli in India tries to find a thread of a road that she wants to walk amidst the clamor of cultures.

“Below Sea Level” angles a selfish youth mentality to reflect into our eyes again, nearly blinding us to the whole human drama that comprises family. And “Borders” reminds us that family is what we make it, after all. These are stories about Israel’s youth, and as such, display youth’s tendencies toward self-absorption, lack of history or responsibility for the future. In each story Tsabari captures a moment in time that is so transitory the characters may never know how it changed them, or how it changed us.

If these stories accurately reflect a piece of Israeli experience and culture, they are a bombshell in the midst of more staid (placid?) values, religious or not. The pervasive atmosphere of “why worry about tomorrow” must be a release at the same time it cripples a wider understanding of a world building a future. What kind of future is never even hinted at in this collection, for these characters are not even part of the conversation. What kind of world is this, a place with as much history as the world has to offer, and a blank where future is meant to lie? It leaves us pondering the word “wonderful.”
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
604 reviews330 followers
May 12, 2016
Another superb collection of short stories. It transported me to a different land and culture, much the same as author Jhumpa Lahiri has done in her own works. I find them refreshing and satisfying to read in between my full volume books. Author Shelly Oria describes it perfectly on the book's back cover:

"With incredible compassion and a delicate touch, [she] explores the heartbreak inherent in forming bonds, whether with another person or with a whole country...a complicated love song to Israel."
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,458 reviews370 followers
February 27, 2016
What a wonderful collection of short stories! The Best Place on Earth by Ayelet Tsabari, is set primarily in Israel, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and their suburbs. They are stories about the people trying to create lives as we all do, in an ancient, dangerous place.

Tsabari offers us moments in her characters' lives, moments that open both back onto their past and forward into their futures. Like all good short stories, these moments are rich and revealing. The characters are all vivid and real.

I was drawn to the book by its locale. The title story compares an idyllic town in British Columbia with Jerusalem. Why, Naomi wonders, is her city, dangerous and jagged the best place on earth to her while the peaceful spot in BC feels bland? Maybe our home is always the best place on earth to us-where we were formed, for good and for bad, with all the love and pain that home and family can entail.

The first story, Tikkun (a word I love, a concept I love, of acts of kindness done to restore the world to wholeness) tells of two former lovers who meet and compare lives. Like all her stories, the premise is simple but the writing is full of depth. And, like all Tsabari's stories, the story has a third character-Israel, its beauty and its danger.

As a New Yorker, I think I have some appreciation of what it means to love a difficult city filled with difficult people. But these cities go beyond New York-in their history as well as in their violence. Tsabari's Israel is fascinating, full of mystery and beauty as well as ugliness and danger. And in these cities, people, like people everywhere, are constructing their ordinary lives, struggling to achieve their own satisfactory lives caught in the web of history and geography.

I want to thank NetGalley, Ayelet Tsabari and Random House for the opportunity to read this outstanding book.
Profile Image for Anatoly.
122 reviews57 followers
June 30, 2016
A wonderful collection of short stories and a superb writing. The stories themselves touch specific motives that are very typical to Israel such as tradition, the army and immigration to or from Israel, but are still very relevant to readers from other nationalities.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,108 reviews1,170 followers
July 19, 2022
A perfectly decent collection of short stories that didn’t do much for me.

There are 11 stories here, featuring Israeli characters and mostly set in Israel. I’m not sure I’d quite call it literary fiction, but I wouldn’t disagree with someone who did: the stories are well-written, and the characters and their relationships, conversations and behavior feel very real. They deal with family issues, romantic relationships, questions of home and belonging and loss. But they are perhaps too slice-of-life for me: skillful character sketches, vivid settings and interesting situations, but without a strong enough throughput to come together into truly satisfying stories. I like twists and stories that require interpretation. I like collections where authors experiment and do different things. Or at least I like more emotional connection, something that leaves me thinking more than these stories did. Often when reading a collection I’ll go looking for reviews that give story-by-story commentary to compare my reactions and interpretations to others’. I realized halfway through this collection that I’d felt no urge to do that, and it doesn’t seem like many people have felt the urge to write such reviews either. Despite several stories ending before their central issues are resolved, I never found myself pondering them afterwards.

I do have a favorite, “Invisible,” which brings together an undocumented Filipina caretaker; her elderly employer, who immigrated to Israel from Yemen as a young woman; and a traumatized former soldier with whom the caretaker begins a tentative romance. The juxtaposition of the treatment of foreign workers in Israel and other countries’ past treatment of Jews is powerful, and stories about more marginal characters have extra urgency. I could see most of these stories being the seeds of novels, but I think this is the only resulting novel I might want to read.

At any rate, this collection is definitely worth a look for those interested in Israel, especially if you enjoy slice-of-life short stories. I did appreciate getting a window on the country, how people talk and feel about ongoing conflicts and army service and life. The characters feel real, the settings vibrant, and there’s nothing objectively wrong with Tsabari’s writing. Maybe I would have been more impressed had I not read it after her memoir, which covers a lot of the same ground.
Profile Image for Ellis Shuman.
Author 4 books224 followers
June 5, 2013
Ayelet Tsabari's stories are compelling and compassionate; they speak out from the heart of Israeli society and experiences.

In “Tikkun,” the opening story, two former lovers reunite in a Jerusalem café. Lior immediately notices that Natalie has changed. “‘Dossit,’” she says, completing his sentence and confirming the reason why she is “covering her hair, wearing a skirt down to her ankles and a long-sleeved shirt on a summer day.” Seven years since she became religious, he learns, since right after they broke up and went separate ways.

Lior and Natalie had fallen in love during the nineties. “The Gulf War was over, Rabin was elected prime minister and everyone thought peace was possible… Now, more than a decade later, Rabin is dead after being assassinated at a peace really; suicide bombers explode in buses and cafes.”

Lior has kept his sanity by avoiding reading the newspapers or watching the news. While taking a walk in Ein Kerem, where he is house sitting for a friend who has gone overseas, he learns there was a pigua in downtown Jerusalem, at the café where he had met with Natalie. She calls, needing to see him one more time after the dreadful news, to make a tikkun by “repairing or correcting past mistakes in order to achieve balance in the world.”

Traumatic episodes in recent Israeli history play background to the other stories in the collection as well. In “The Poets in the Kitchen Window”, Iraqi missiles are falling on Tel Aviv. “Borders” takes place in the aftermath of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, when the Sinai peninsula was given back to Egypt. The war in Lebanon is ongoing as the story “Warplanes” unfolds, a time when “black on the front page means many soldiers” have been killed.

What really brings Ayelet Tsabari’s stories to life are her characters, people that you rarely meet in Israeli fiction. The story “Invisible” deals with the relationship between a Filipina caregiver and her Yemeni employer Mrs. Haddad, who everyone calls Savta. “Below Sea Level” brings us to the shores of the Dead Sea, where Eitan Sharabi, a fit and tanned retired Israeli officer has taken refuge due to his failing health. And “Casualties” takes us behind the scenes in an Israeli army medical base, where Yael is making ends meet by selling sick leave permissions to other soldiers.

The author gives voice to Mizrahi residents of Israel. As Ayelet says in her interview, “The canonical Israeli literature is still very much dominated by Ashkenazi writers who generally depict Ashkenazi stories and characters. It may be changing and improving from when I was a child, but there’s still much to aspire for.” Ayelet’s characters, coming from their Yemeni, Iraqi, and Moroccan backgrounds, are ordinary people, with regular cares, worries, and daily struggles. The reader falls captive to their lives for a short while, and emerges from the experience with a better understanding and acceptance of Israel’s multicultural society.

Short stories are most successful when you wish they wouldn’t end. The stories of The Best Place on Earth leave you wishing you could accompany the characters through additional pages and adventures.

Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Erika Dreifus.
Author 9 books180 followers
April 3, 2013
What a wonderful collection of stories. I splurged and bought a copy via Amazon.ca; I hope that some U.S. publisher will pick up this book and publish it in this country and help it reach a wider audience (I'd also be curious to see how readers in Israel might respond to it). In any case, I'm glad that I went ahead and got my copy. I'll be eager to read whatever Ayelet Tsabari writes next!
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,422 reviews538 followers
April 11, 2017
These wonderful, hopeful stories cracked open a vibrant new world, exposing an Israel that was unfamiliar to me. I become involved with each of the engaging characters and wanted the stories to go on longer.
Profile Image for Joan.
56 reviews50 followers
April 7, 2019
4.5 A gem of a collection. Stories filled with insight and compassion into the Israeli experience both at home and abroad.

I especially loved
“The Poets in the Kitchen Window.”
Profile Image for Alexandra.
271 reviews12 followers
March 24, 2017
"The Best Place on Earth" is an excellent book of short stories about life in Israel. The main characters are all women - some children, some teenagers, some adults, so a nice mix. All of the stories revolve around relationships, among families, friends, and lovers. Each character is complex, and the secondary characters are also rich - not easy to do in a short story.

The main focus is on Mizrahi and Yemeni Jews, rather than Ashkenazi Jews (of which much more has been written, at least in English). This focus makes for a fascinating look into cultures that often get short shrift in Jewish and Israeli literature. Many of the stories involve food and customs that Jewish immigrants from Yemen, Iraq and other countries brought with them to Israel, and explore how the characters and their families have retained some of that identity while becoming or growing up Israeli.

Another major theme is, what is home? The title story follows two sisters who grew up in Israel, but one left to move to Canada. Each sister has trouble understanding the other's fondness for her home. Tsabari takes us around Israel from Jerusalem to Eilat, and even the Sinai. One of my favorite stories, "Borders," is about the Jewish community that sprung up in Sinai after the Six-Day War, their relationship with the native Bedouins, and how hard it was for the Jews to leave after the Camp David Accords in 1978. In "A Sign of Harmony," an Israeli feels more at home in India than her boyfriend, a Brit of Indian descent.

I also appreciated that not all of the main characters were Jewish, and that most of the characters were not Orthodox. One story follows a Filipino caregiver; considering how large Israel's migrant worker community is, it was refreshing to have a story that focused on them and the advantages and disadvantages they face. All of the characters connect with Judaism in different ways.

Most of the stories do not directly deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it still looms over the characters and the decisions they make. "Maybe there's something good about knowing it could all end at any minute," one character says to explain why Israelis are so passionate about everything, so ready to dance and drink and be merry. This may explain why Tsabari included so much sex in the book, to show how Israelis react to the prospect of death by making love. I did feel that the sex was gratuitous in some stories, though for others it made sense.

Tsabari has created a wonderful and unique portrait of life in Israel. She has shown a different side of Israel - the multicultural, immigrant side - than is often portrayed of Israel, at least in the news. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Owaiz.
Author 1 book9 followers
April 13, 2016
Since it’s a collection of short stories, stories that I have loved so much that I have briefly reviewed each story. (Go to the Author's profile and check out the individual stories if you want.)

First, how I got here. Israel happens to be the only place on earth with the greatest divide for me. As a child, I grew up knowing Jews were bad people, and the term ‘Yehudi’ was used as a religious profanity; I don’t remember who told me this, but it was sort of understood. Eventually I grew up and ended up an atheist, yet my passport (Pakistani) clearly states it is valid everywhere in the word, except Israel, of course.

Freed from the hate, I became fascinated with Israel, except that I couldn’t get in. I looked at the photos on the internet, read on Wikipedia, but it always seemed still; I was blocked, as I still am, probably.

Then, one night, the term ‘Jewish Literature’ suddenly came to my mind, and that’s how I found this book. This is the first book falling into the category of Israeli fiction that I read. And I am glad that I ended up finding this book.

I didn’t really want to read it, though. I wasn’t sure, so I decided to just take a peek. The first three lines in the first story, Tikkun, immediately drew me in. Written so beautifully that I knew there was no going back. I read the first page thrice, trying to construct that one Jerusalem street in my mind, filling it with people, bringing it to life; and, also, because the writing was so beautiful that I just had to reread, like you would look at a beautiful face over and again, stare at it till you've had enough.

I loved each and every story in this book. It showed me a whole new dimension of Israel, somehow bringing Israel to life for me, like Humans of New York page on Facebook does for people.

I feel privileged to have read this book, to be able to understand (although I've always believed that already), that Israel is not just a hotbed for fanatics and religious battles. It has people, like everywhere else in the world, fighting battles of their own, living life, facing personal crises, etc.

I didn't expect that I'd be able to relate to anything in this book, given I am from Pakistan, but I was able to relate to more than half of the stories. I'd recommend this to everyone, as I already have to some of my friends who I hold in high-regard.
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews202 followers
February 9, 2017

Captivating, moving, evocative, sultry...

So while I finish my review, here's a sample of Tsabari's gorgeous writing:
"They could see the shores of the lake now; hunks of salt floating in the water like misplaced ice floes. His ears popped. The lower they got the deeper his heart sank. Why would his Dad choose to live here? At least in the city there was a crowd one could disappear into, streets and buildings in neat rows, the space organized and contained. The desert had always made David uncomfortable, how wide open and vast it was, its landscape hard and bony, like knuckles on a fist. And there was the silence, and the deadly heat - a monster ready to open its mouth and swallow him whole."
From "Below the Sea Level"

To be continued...
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews109k followers
March 8, 2016
Tsabati has set these eleven emotionally powerful stories all over the world, and filled them with hope, fear, love, loss, and religion. The title story is about two estranged sisters trying to reunite, plus there are stories about a woman's shock at learning about her grandson's upbringing, a man who narrowly avoids catastrophe, a young medic in the Israeli army, and more. Tsabati is being compared to Jhumpa Lahiri, but I must admit I have never read Lahiri, so I cannot confirm that claim. You can let me know!

Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books: http://bookriot.com/category/all-the-...
Profile Image for Greta G.
337 reviews237 followers
Shelved as 'gave-up-for-now'
September 21, 2016
I read two stories from this collection and I didn't like it. I had the feeling this was written by a young writer for a young audience. It thought these stories were very superficial, especially the second one. Maybe the other stories are better but I lost interest. Not for me.
Profile Image for Rachel.
1,013 reviews42 followers
January 31, 2019
This book was a breath of fresh air! Makes me wish I trekked on over to Canada years as to purchase it, but the US cover is growing on me.

Comparing an author to Jhumpa Lahiri (and some sources compared Tsabari to Allegra Goodman) means that she had some very large shoes to fill for me. I could see her effort from the start, in "Tikkun" about old lovers briefly re-connecting before and after a terror attack, "Say it Again, Say Something Else," about a teenage unrequited crush within a heavily Russian and Yemeni neighborhood in greater Tel Aviv, and "Brit Milah," where a traditional Yemeni Israeli mother has to come to terms with how her daughter is raising a family in Toronto. But although engaging, they felt a little too simple, a little too rudimentary.

This changed in the middle of the collection, with the story, "The Poets in the Kitchen Window," where a teenage boy grapples with his burgeoning desire to write poetry and his fractured family, amidst the Tel Aviv-area air raids during the Gulf War. Tsbari wove in so many themes, so many wonderful, burning questions for the characters and the readers. Then again with "Casualties," where a careening young twenty-something buries her insecurities amidst promiscuity and workplace fraud while her boyfriend suffers trauma during his army service in Gaza.

Tsabari writes primarily about Yemeni and other Mizrahi/middle eastern Jews, a rarely heard perspective in Israeli literature. Many of these characters battle with their pasts in Arab countries, or their realities in "Ashka-normative" (Eastern European Jewish) Israeli society. But often that's about all these characters have in common--they are young, old, male, female, and have various experiences in their individual lives, and opinions about the Jewish homeland. Tsabari also jumped a bit around the country, too--from thriving, urban Tel Aviv to religiously fractured Jerusalem, from the hippies and moshavs of Sinai to the lonely expanse near the Dead Sea.

One story, featuring a young Yemeni Israeli woman who looks like a native and is looking for a home, takes place in India...the others that aren't in Israel are all centered in Canada. Tsabari now lives there herself, and I can't help but chuckle, especially after the titular story, "The Best Place on Earth," (Jerusalem or British Columbia?) at the stereotypical differences between Israeli and Canadian societies. Israelis are known for being very brash and aggressive, whereas Canadians are all nice and polite. Talk about a culture clash! In this story, two sisters, who have grown geographically and emotionally different, attempt to find common ground again.

My favorite story in the collection is called "Invisible," and an illegal Filipina caretaker is the protagonist. As she worries about her fate in a foreign country, and feels guilty about her daughter back home, she also grows entwined with this Yemeni Israeli family (and friends) with traumas of their own. The title of the story grows especially poignant--years ago, the woman this protagonist is caring for hid from Yemeni Arabs who wanted to tear her away from her family; the story ends with the protagonist hiding from immigration police. Probably my favorite ending of any of Tsbari's stories.

Beautiful language, compelling characters and complicated themes. I can see why this won the 2015 Sami Rohr prize; this is short stories done right.

2019 edit: My first reread in a long while, thanks to my book club! I'm bad at remembering the specifics of short stories, yet as I read them again I found them re-filling my head. Maybe there's a closed door of memory somewhere. :P

I told my group that my favorite story was "The Poets in the Kitchen Window," but even then I was grappling with whether it was that one or "Invisible." I love the expansiveness of the former (and I still remember, back in 2016, gushing over the scene where the main character realizes that poetry can be about the small things in life.) But I love the tight parameters of "Invisible." At least I thought they were tight. Folks in my book club were frustrated by the "open-endedness," but I think that's because they wanted to end on definitive action. I'm much more cool ending with emotional resonance.

With "Invisible," they wanted to know whether or not the protagonist was caught by the authorities, and also got hung up on whether the magical realist conceit was...real or not. I don't really care about what is scientifically true out in the world--I care about how human characters contextualize their lives. I found it beautiful. And I also love how the protagonist's story of being an illegal alien mirrors her employee's story about being an outsider, both in Muslim Yemen and Ashkenazi-centric Israel.

One member of the group talked about the themes of color, identity and blending in (I think she used more socially verified language) in "A Sign of Harmony," where a Mizrahi girl finds a life for herself in India. Made me appreciate that story more.

Was interesting to read a short story collection with the group; people said they liked it because even if they didn't finish all of the stories, they still knew the arcs of the ones they did read. We also talked a bit about how it opened our eyes to the experiences of Mizrahi Jews in Israel, and other groups, like the Filipina caretaker in "Invisible." I'm definitely eager to read Tsabari's memoir, out next month! I'm on the library holds list! :D
Profile Image for Sleepless Dreamer.
847 reviews212 followers
February 23, 2016
I'm so grateful this book exists. I've never read a more accurate representation of Israel. If you're interested in seeing parts of life here no one talks about, this book is for you.

As an Israeli person, I found it easy to sympathize. The struggles and issues portrayed in this book are incredibly relevant still. Religion and modernism, mizrathi and askenazi, the wars, the illegal workers, all of these are throbbing subjects in our culture.

Beyond this, I think the author grasps something very real about what Israel is, as single individuals. There's definitely that fire, the passion that some consider rude. People are more blunt. They speak louder. There's more warmth because manners basically aren't a thing. People are nice because they want to and they're assholes because they want to.

As most short story collections, some of these stories are incredibly powerful (I loved Tikkun) and some fall short. All of them portray strength, fierceness, pain, and reality. It's such a real collection.

The writing is so good. It's easy to read and quick to relate to. I understood the terms because I speak Hebrew but I think they're understandable without too.

I highly recommend this. Go ahead, read it! It's important to see more sides to Israel than just everything the news shoves down your throat. While this book isn't 100% positive, it shows part of the complexity of Israel.

I do want to point out that I think the discussion about Mizrahi Jews is kind of outdated. I truly feel Israel is merging together. Even now, I know so many people that are a blend of cultures, like I have a friend who's half German and half Yemen. This isn't rare in Israel and I think that's where this country is going. It's not even a "mixed race" thing because we're all Jewish and we're all Israeli and this is more important than wherever our grandparents came from. I don't feel like it's such an important part of day to day life in Israel, or even a crucial subject, next to others.

And of course there are Mizrathi poets! This was so annoying! Is the author aware of Ars Poetica? That's basically a celebration of Mizrahi poetry. Roni Somek is just one example, there are plenty of Mizrathi poets.

Profile Image for Cary.
103 reviews11 followers
July 16, 2018
Refreshingly excellent. Each story felt so real. All of them kept me wanting more. Whenever the story ended, I kind of felt bad as I didn't want it to be over yet.

I feel like I've learned so much about Israel and about Israelis who have migrated to the West, especially Canada. The stories were really good IMO. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Mike W.
161 reviews21 followers
February 17, 2016
I remember a time when I was a very young man who had recently moved to Europe and was learning a new language, that I had a rather naïve epiphany about my new Dutch speaking friends: "these people think and talk about the same things that I do!" Ayelet Tsabari's new short story collection, The Best Place on Earth might seem to be about things and people so exclusive as to make wider interest unlikely. A collection about Mizrahi living in or remembering their time in Israel, and even more specifically, Mizrahi of Yemeni descent, may sound daunting to readers like myself who possess little to no knowledge of the people and culture. However, this is a collection that sparks a human connection, and while the culture and the names may be unfamiliar, their angsts and desires are not.

Each story in the collection stands alone, but there are themes which tie them together, one having already been mentioned. Another is the onus of mandatory military service to all citizens, another the unique challenges of Mizrahi living among the majority Ashkenazi, another, a sexual energy that permeates many of the stories, and of course there is the ever looming threat of random and terrifying violence. These themes form a framework in which Tsabari's various characters work out their humanity and their problems, universal to the human condition, make their stories both interesting and fascinating.

I do not mean to imply that there is not an exotic or "foreign" feel to the American reader, there is. I have never been to Israel but this collection in a sense did take me there. From the smell of the markets, the brands of cigarettes, the colors, the clubs and the feel of vibrant cities who emit an "all night feel" even with danger being ever present. In one story it is theorized that it may be precisely this danger that fuels the vibrancy of the cities, "maybe there's something good about knowing it could all end at any minute." Once cannot help but come away with a new understanding of the place after reading this collection; the understanding that despite the seemingly always violent news we read about the area, there is an energy there, a beauty, that people love and which tugs at those who have left.

I should mention that no special knowledge is required to understand the collection. Tsabari deftly guides the reader through the terms and phrases that will be unfamiliar to many readers and manages to do a great deal of teaching about the region within the context of the stories.

The Best Place on Earth is a remarkable collection of stories that land all along the spectrum of complex human emotions. Enriching and enlightening, the collection uses a focus on interesting characters set among a relatively tiny group of people in a very small part of the world to reflect our shared humanity; a unique reading experience that is easy to recommend.
Profile Image for cameron.
394 reviews98 followers
April 7, 2019
Totally disappointing. Some glimmers of interesting stories about contemporary Israel but characters were all depressingly vague and passive. Their awareness and acceptance of living amid terrorism and enemies was touched upon but never examined.
Profile Image for Cindy H..
1,567 reviews53 followers
June 17, 2019
3.5 /5
Not really a fan of short stories but I was able to read through the entire collection and quite liked them all. It’s obvious that Ayelet Tsabari knows what she writes as she really describes the sights, sounds, flavors and nuances of the vibrant neighborhoods of Israel exceptionally well. This was a book club read and we had some good discussions. I would recommend Ayelet Tsabari’s memoir, The Art of Leaving over this short story collection.
Profile Image for Meghan.
8 reviews3 followers
April 22, 2013
I don’t normally read short story collections but lately have been making a point to include them on my shelf. The first collection I chose was The Best Place on Earth: Stories by Ayelet Tsabari and after the first story I knew I had chosen wisely.

This collection mainly takes place in Israel with connections to Canada. It tells the stories of many different characters of Israeli Mizrahi descent: soldiers, lovers, and travelers. The stories are global in scope and refreshing: I don’t think I have ever read a book about Mizrahi Jews.

My favourite stories were “Casualties” which was about a young female solider who forged medical leave forms to sell in secret. It was very sexy and also very sad. “The Poets in the Kitchen Window” tells the tale of a young boy in Tel Aviv who wrote poetry during Operation Desert Storm and could never leave home without a gas mask due to the missiles.

If you are just starting out with short story collections like I was, The Best Place on Earth: Stories is a great place to start. Exciting and extremely human, these stories will touch you regardless of your background. At the very least, it will be a peek into a world that doesn't have much representation in literature.
Profile Image for Moshe Mikanovsky.
Author 1 book24 followers
June 1, 2016
If you want to get a glimpse into how Israelis are - read The Best Place on Earth!

The stories are beautifully woven, putting you right there between the places, events and people that shaped, and still shaping, Israeli psyche: The first gulf war and Skuds falling all around us, the historic Begin-Saadat handshake at Camp David, the bustling streets and markets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, sabra native Israelis and new immigrants experiences, returning citizen, line 61 which took many of us from Tel Aviv's suburbs (nothing like American suburbs) to Tel Aviv, watching Little House on the Prairie (on our black and white TVs) and so many more!

And for Israelis living abroad, especially in Canada, there are so many small and big moments that feels like they were written about us...

5 stars through and through!
Profile Image for Annie.
2,038 reviews96 followers
February 15, 2016
The stories in The Best Place on Earth revolve around themes of tradition, loneliness, and identity. Unlike many stories about the Jewish experience, these ones do not revolve around religious practices in the main. Instead, Tsabari’s stories examine culture. The younger generations are expected to carry on the traditions of their parents and ancestors, but many of the characters in this book are seeking new ways of living. The conflicts come when they break away from their parents’ expectations. It can be lonely to break away, even if one has a partner, because no one can guide a person on their quest to figure out who they are...

Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration.
Profile Image for Debra.
2 reviews1 follower
February 12, 2016
I loved this book and was very sad to leave these characters. While I am generally not a huge fan of the short story, these stories are truly captivating. The characters are presented at a crossroads, trying to make sense of their heritage and place in a war torn country. Whether the characters are in Israel or elsewhere, Israel remains in their core. Their stuggles to balance culture, identity and asssimilation is painful and fascinating. Absoultey one of the best books I've read in sometime, and one of the few where I can still feel the presence of the characters. This books makes me yearn to return to Israel and to appreciate the true diversity of this complicated and beautiful country. I cannot wait to read more books from this incredibly talented author.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,697 reviews14.1k followers
April 11, 2016
Another great grouping of short stories, the first story, Tikkan, absolutely blew me away and it kept going from there. Set in Israel these stories feature people coming from other countries in the Middle East and some from even farther away. In one story a group of caregivers have come from the Philippines and are in the country illegally. All are trying to adjust to new countries, new homes, trying to find their place many times among suicide bombers and a country at war. All these stories and their characters are interesting, I think there was only one story I did not care for, and the writing is top notch. Incredibly well done.

ARC from Netgalley.
60 reviews
August 18, 2020
While it was interesting to read several stories set in Israel or involving Israelis living elsewhere in the world, and Tsabari paints a detailed picture of Israel itself, she falls short of exploring the depths of her characters. With the exception of "The Poets in the Kitchen Window" (which is excellent), her stories feel like an incomplete snapshot. I wanted to learn more about the characters' lives and wished there were another 10 pages. Her writing is clear and to-the-point, lacking the metaphoric language that an author like Jhumpa Lahiri prefers.
Profile Image for Ian M. Pyatt.
365 reviews
November 4, 2020
Was a bit of a disappointment based on other high-praised reviews. I found some stories boring and came to an abrupt end with, in my opinion, no clear or satisfying ending.

Poets, Invisible, Borders & Best Place were favourites.

I thought this would be an interesting read as the stories were based in Israel and I was there on a family vacation back in 1975 so I knew of the places and could relate to where the stories took place. And, have a friend on Galiano Island out in B.C. as mentioned in the title story.
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