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The Art of Leaving: A Memoir

by Ayelet Tsabari


Shortly before her 10th birthday, Ayelet Tsabari was forced to deal with the death of her father. Though losing a parent is undeniably painful – especially for a child – Tsabari’s father bequeathed his young daughter a love of books, a wild imagination, and the inspiration to write her stories down.

On the surface, The Art of Leaving is the result of the author’s personal journey through grief in the aftermath of her father’s passing. However, Tsabari – who won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for her debut, the story collection The Best Place on Earth – expands her focus beyond this tragedy. She offers insight into her identity as a Yemeni Jew of Mizrahi descent, the latter part of which she once rejected due to the prejudices against people of Mizrahi background in Israel. Interspersed between longer passages about her life – like her mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces – Tsabari includes anecdotes on racism, violence, family, and love.

At 21, Tsabari left Tel Aviv to travel through India, Europe, New York, and Canada. Her journey will feel familiar for many Canadians with complex identities who struggle to define home. In many people’s lives, their bodies remain in one place while their hearts and minds often roam to another. The Art of Leaving poses a central question, for which there is no easy answer: where, exactly, is home? Is it the place where we or our parents are born? The place we end up? The place where our family is? Though Tsabari ultimately decides on the last, The Art of Leaving deftly illustrates the ways home can be any or all of the above, simultaneously or at different times in our lives.

Tsabari packs a large amount of research and detail into her essays, yet there remains something lacking. Readers anticipating an in-depth examination of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which acts as a backdrop in various parts of the memoir, will not find it. Tsabari writes about returning to Israel during the second intifada; suicide bombings made her feel uneasy in public spaces. But even here, the conflict feels lightly skimmed over, and the author displays what appears as a hesitance to tackle the subject on the page. This leaves a reader wanting more, especially since Tsabari has spoken elsewhere about the lack of Mizrahi and Palestinian literature in Israeli schools.

Despite this, The Art of Leaving is worthwhile in the way it addresses its central subject: the nature of home in the world. The book pushes readers to examine their own personal and political histories and to question the ways those histories fit into a bigger, global picture.