Ayelet Tsabari

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Ayelet Tsabari is an Israeli-Canadian writer.


  • I'm just about to cross the street to Café Rimon when I see Natalie sitting on the shaded patio and my heart skips, trips and falls over itself.
    • first lines of "Tikkun" short story included in The Best Place on Earth (2013)
  • The day Lily meets Lana is her two-week anniversary in Israel. She's lying on her belly in the dried grass outside the apartment building she now calls home, watching insects through her macro lens. She's sweating in her faded blue jeans and Converse high-tops. Then a shadow eclipses her sun.
    • first lines of "Say It Again, Say Something Else" short story included in The Best Place on Earth (2013)
  • …So much of the writing process is done in the privacy of your own home, often in your pajamas, so I love that research forces me to get out of the house, try new things, meet new people. It keeps me from getting too comfortable and pushes me outside my comfort zone. Despite writing about places I know and communities I'm familiar with, there was still a lot of research to be done, and thank God for that! It would be really boring to write only about stuff I know so well that I never have to leave my desk to explore...
  • I've always been a storyteller. Before I could write, I used to make up stories and tell them to my friends and family. They were always really dramatic, with ghosts and people falling into holes in the ground, and ships lost at stormy seas. Then, I started drawing comic strips and I would show them to my mom and narrate them. As soon as I learned the alphabet I started writing stories and poems. I wrote every day, usually in the afternoons, when my parents were napping. My sister (who is seven years older) and my father recognized my love of storytelling and writing early on, and they fostered and encouraged it…
  • …Obviously Israel will always be home. I feel it most intensely when I'm there for a long enough period. When I first arrive, I'm not so sure about it, but once I stay for a few weeks, it feels like I could easily move back and live there. It's beyond the fact that my entire family lives there: It's a visceral thing, an attachment to the physicality of the place, to how the place smells and tastes. I also have an intense connection to the sea in Israel; I actually have to say goodbye to it whenever I leave and it's always a difficult parting…
  • I returned to Israel after 20 years in Canada because I wanted to see if I belonged here. The jury is still out. I’ve been gone for so long that I feel a little bit like an immigrant here, in Israel, too. This may be a case of the immigrant predicament: you no longer belong anywhere, or maybe you belong everywhere? I think my writing tries to make sense of that question
  • (Is her memoir consciously undergirded by feminist assertions of agency, and standing up to patriarchy?) “I think this is an essential element of my memoir that is rarely discussed. As a young woman, it absolutely felt subversive and defiant in a way, wishing to break free from patriarchal expectations of me. But also, the fact that it felt so radical was on its own a testament to how oppressed women still are. It really shouldn’t be such a big deal, you know, to want to be free, to follow your heart.
  • I am a writer and I am always guided by storytelling.

The Art of Leaving (2019)

  • Growing up, I had often felt out of place in my own country, a feeling I couldn’t comprehend or name until much later. It had to do with my father; grief shakes the foundations of your home, unsettles and banishes you. It might have also had to do with the exclusion of my culture from so many facets of Israeli life, with not seeing myself in literature and in the media, with being taught in school a partial history about the inception of Israel that painted us as mere extras. Or perhaps that failed sense of belonging was an Israeli predicament, because how does one feel at home when home is unsafe, forever contested? When the fear of losing is so entrenched in us it has become a part of our ethos?
  • Home is collecting stories, writing them down, and retelling them. Home is writing, and it grounds, sustains, and nourishes me. Home is the page. The one place I always, always come back to.
  • Leaving, I discovered, did not cure my displacement, but rather reinforced it.
  • Home became the liminal space in between-between identities, between cultures, between languages- and I was content claiming that space as my own, pleased to be different.
  • The sky cracked open like an eggshell
  • I would wish that I was the one leaving because that would be better than being left behind
  • I know about death…Our country is haunted by its dead, weighed down by loss and remembrance.

Interview (2019)

  • I often tell students that I understand the need to write something right after it happens, but if you’re trying to craft it into an actual piece of art, a memoir or a creative nonfiction, I always say it’s best to wait...You need some distance to really make sense of it, I think, in writing.
  • I think a lot of women who have experienced sexual assault have the same story. It’s like an ulcer in our bodies. There is something positive about the experience of letting it out and telling the story.
  • Israel is a very small place, as you know, there’s something that can feel very familial about it, which is both positive and not so positive at different times and different instances.
  • (Do you think there’s been increased awareness of Mizrahi Jewish culture in English-language speaking communities?) I sure hope so. I do my part. It’s a small part. But every time I get to speak in front of people, I correct misconceptions, which happens often. People saying things like “Mizrahi Jews didn’t come to Israel until the founding of the country, so that’s maybe why …” And I’m like, “Actually, my great-grandmother came in 1907, and the first Yemeni immigration was at the same time as the Bilu immigration of the European Jews, exactly the same years, it just hasn’t been told.” So yeah, you have to do what you have to do.
  • When you write your first book, you get to write it in a bit of a bubble. You don’t know if it will be published, as much as you hope and wish for it, you don’t really know that. It’s kind of a safer place to write. And then when you write the second book, you’re aware of readership, you’re aware of views, of an audience out there, of expectations, and it’s more work to shut that down.

"Disappearance/Muteness" (2021)


in the anthology tongues: On Longing and Belonging through Language

  • I delight in the sound of Yemeni rolling out of my mouth, rejoice in accentuating the letters in that deep, melodic way, feeling as though in my own small way I'm keeping something alive-an endangered language, yes-but also more personally, our past, my childhood, as though in using these words I am channelling my ancestors.
  • Writing in a second language...is like wearing someone else's skin, an act akin to religious conversion.
  • Being away from home and its prejudice toward the Arabic language allowed my body to remember Arabic, lament what was lost, and reclaim my own Arabness.
  • Mizrahi Jews, some of whom came later than Ashkenazi, faced prejudice and inequity in Israel. Their need to assimilate required an erasure of their past, a denial of their heritage and language, which wasn't just foreign, or diasporic, but also associated with the enemy. Yiddish and other European languages were also lost, but Arabic was more politically charged. Despite sharing roots with Hebrew, which should have made it feel familial, it became viewed as dangerous, and hearing it instilled fear.
  • There are two Arabics I long for-my ancestral tongue and the language of this place-or is it really one? Arabic existed alongside my mother tongue for generations, a sister language whose words are often recognizable: bayit and beit, yeled and walad. They share many words, a similar ring, an etymological root, a lingual family, and yet they are estranged. If this is not a parable about the state of this region, I don't know what is.
  • Some days I feel a physical ache for Arabic, a tug in my heart. How do you miss something you've never known? Can a language be lodged inside your body, folded into your organs, the same way we inherit memories from our ancestors, like trauma? How else can you explain the warmth that spreads inside my body when I hear it? The yearning?
  • The sea is the setting for many of my formative memories: I spent many Saturdays there with my family, fell in love, had my first kiss, broke up with my first boyfriend. Later on I worked as a waitress on a Tel Aviv beach and got to work barefoot, watch hundreds of sunsets and sunrises, swim late at night. When I moved to Vancouver, I found myself living by water again. In Toronto where I now live, the lake doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t offer the same promise, the same fantasy as the sea. It doesn’t satisfy my longings.
    • On the importance of the sea in her life and fictional works
  • Jewelry is an important part of Yemeni Jewish heritage. In Yemen, jewelry making was strictly a Jewish profession; the majority of the Jewish men were silversmiths and they were known for their fine craftsmanship. In fact, after the Jews went to Israel, Yemeni culture suffered a huge loss because they took their craft with them.
  • I’ve never believed in “write what you know.” I believe in “write what you must.” So I tried, knowing that I very well might fail. When writing fiction, you need to find that kernel of truth within you and superimpose it onto your character.
  • (Describe your female characters, their sexual aggressiveness.) AT: I like to think my women are badasses. The first person to point that out to me was one of my teachers at Guelph who said he appreciated that my female characters were sexually aggressive, that they wanted sex and went for it. It wasn’t something that I did consciously. I just wrote the kind of female characters I like to read. A part of it stems from my interest in gender dynamics in Israel, in particular the mandatory nature of the army service and how it shapes young men and women. I feel that being forced at such a young age to go into the army—still a male dominated environment—contributes to young Israeli women possessing what’s considered stereotypically male characteristics. It probably also has something to do with growing up and living in a warzone, a place where survival is an issue and the need to defend oneself is so instilled in our minds that people—regardless of gender—feel they need to develop a certain toughness, be on the offensive, even in everyday life.
  • I was a terrible soldier. That’s the thing with mandatory service—it’s not for everyone, yet everyone has to go.
  • For a long time I didn’t write about Israel at all. It’s such a volatile place and people have such strong opinions and everything you write about Israel is perceived as political. It is a double edged sword—some people may find your writing more alluring because of it while others may not want to go anywhere near it. At some point I had to stop worrying. I had to resign myself to the fact that I was going to piss people off, and that people are going to read the book and interpret it any way they like, and there is nothing I can do about it.
  • Mizrahi literature has been overlooked in Israel—it’s getting better now, but when I was growing up I never read characters or authors that represented me. It made me feel invisible. There are more Mizrahi authors published nowadays, but Mizrahi literature is still underrepresented in the education system and in the Israeli canon. Unfortunately, Mizrahi authors have been translated a lot less than Ashkenazi authors.

Quotes about

  • Perhaps Tsabari’s greatest attraction as a global storyteller is her absolute veracity— no holds barred, she has her reader in thrall with her art of fashioning her tellings with a refreshing turn of phrase. And like the burgeoning tribe of diasporic and postcolonial writers whose mother tongue is not English, she employs the once colonizer’s language to tell her stories in her own voice, that are being read by hundreds of thousands of immigrants who live in English-speaking countries which are their adopted homeland. Thus, the narrative is studded with unexpected gems — visual, audial, culinary and cerebral: “The sky cracked open like an eggshell”; “I would wish that I was the one leaving because that would be better than being left behind”; “I know about death…Our country is haunted by its dead, weighed down by loss and remembrance”...Tsabari’s creativity spins on the unique fulcrum of provoking the reader to think outside the box, and insidiously works to make the global reader understand the urgency to celebrate diversity with the art of acceptance.
Wikipedia has an article about: