WINNER OF THE CANADIAN JEWISH LITERARY AWARD FOR MEMOIR
FINALIST FOR THE HILARY WESTON WRITERS' TRUST PRIZE FOR NONFICTION
An unforgettable memoir about a young woman who tries to outrun loss, but eventually finds a way home.
Ayelet Tsabari was 21 years old the first time she left Tel Aviv with no plans to return. Restless after two turbulent mandatory years in the Israel Defense Forces, Tsabari longed to get away. It was not the never-ending conflict that drove her, but the grief that had shaken the foundations of her home. The loss of Tsabari’s beloved father in years past had left her alienated and exiled within her own large Yemeni family and at odds with her Mizrahi identity. By leaving, she would be free to reinvent herself and to rewrite her own story.
For nearly a decade, Tsabari travelled, through India, Europe, the US and Canada, as though her life might go stagnant without perpetual motion. She moved fast and often because—as in the Intifada—it was safer to keep going than to stand still. Soon the act of leaving—jobs, friends and relationships—came to feel most like home.
But a series of dramatic events forced Tsabari to examine her choices and her feelings of longing and displacement. By periodically returning to Israel, Tsabari began to examine her Jewish-Yemeni background and the Mizrahi identity she had once rejected, as well as unearthing a family history that had been untold for years. What she found resonated deeply with her own immigrant experience and struggles with new motherhood.
Beautifully written, frank and poignant, The Art of Leaving is a courageous coming-of-age story that reflects on identity and belonging and that explores themes of family and home—both inherited and chosen.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Toronto-based writer Ayelet Tsabari doesn’t pull punches in her razor-sharp memoir of a woman on the run: “Leaving is the only thing I know how to do,” she writes. A Yemeni Israeli whose father died just before she turned 10, Tsabari served in the army before fleeing her home country to spend a decade experimenting with different drugs and a variety of love affairs in places like Mexico, India, and Thailand. The Art of Leaving is a frank, beautiful exploration of a modern woman’s journey to find fulfilment and figure out the meaning of home. We were especially moved by Tsabari’s adoring descriptions of her father, a lawyer who wrote poetry and kindled her imagination.
Tsabari (The Best Place on Earth) offers an insightful and kaleidoscopic account of a life scarred by the death of her father from a heart attack when she was in fourth grade. One of six children born into a Jewish Yemeni family living near Tel Aviv, Tsabari was close with her father, a lawyer who wrote poetry. The author aspired to write as well, but when her father died she lost her sense of security and direction, things she wouldn't recover until adulthood. After graduating high school in the early 1990s, she served in the Israeli Army and then traveled to New York, India, and Thailand; she candidly writes of dabbling in drugs and acquiring and jettisoning boyfriends. She eventually landed in Vancouver, Canada, where she married and divorced within a couple of years. Her fear of attachment to any one person or place kept Tsabari constantly on the move when at age 28 with no money saved and no prospects she came to the realization that "leaving is the only thing I know how to do." By the book's end, Tsabari seems contented and her prose feels lighter as she describes how, in her 30s, she met and married a sailor named Sean. Readers will be moved by Tsabari's colorful, intimate memoir. Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated when the author graduated from high school.