Books

Ayelet Tsabari is always leaving things behind. So she wrote a book about it

The Israeli-Canadian author discusses how she wrote The Art of Leaving. The memoir is shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
Ayelet Tsabari talks to CBC Books about how she wrote her memoir The Art of Leaving. (CBC Radio/Sinisa Jolic, HarperCollins Canada)

Ayelet Tsabari was born in Israel and is currently based in Toronto. The author's latest book is The Art of Leaving. In this memoir, Tsabari explores the grief of losing her father at a young age, her Israeli identity and her refusal to settle in one place.

Having struggled to grapple with the language, Tsabari wrote her first story in English in 2006. She has since been awarded the Chalmers Arts Fellowship by Ontario and was one of five women shortlisted for the CBC's Short Story Prize in 2018 for Green.

The Art of Leaving is a finalist for the 2019 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The winner will be announced on Nov. 5, 2019.

Tsabari spoke to CBC Books about how she wrote The Art of Leaving

Assembling language

"Writing in English was something I couldn't imagine when I first moved to Canada. I went quite a few years without being able to write at all when I was in-between languages. Then I started to write in bits and pieces and English started to seep into my writing. There was something I found exciting about it. It felt new and anonymous in a strange way and it gave me a sense of freedom. I could reinvent myself and hide in it a little bit. 

What I realized about myself as I was starting to write is that I lived my life in search of stories.- Ayelet Tsabari

"My partner had a big hand in pushing me back into writing. He recognised that I was dissatisfied, so he asked for a story for our first anniversary and I resented him for that. But I did it. That was the first thing that was whole that I had written in years, and it was in English. It had to be because he doesn't read Hebrew."

Collecting stories

"What I realized about myself as I was starting to write is that I lived my life in search of stories. I've always written since I was a young girl, but I also always had the feeling that I had needed to live more before I published a book. I remember someone asking me when I was 20, 'Why don't you publish all these stories that you write?' I remember saying that nobody writes a book before they're 40. I ended up publishing my first book a couple of months before I turned 40.

"Looking back on my life, I realised that I left everything: my home, family, numerous lovers and my language. It started to feel like leaving was the thing I did best. It almost was a sense of a home in itself the idea that I didn't stay anywhere and at one point I had to stop and wonder why."

Ideas of home

"Growing up, I always felt that the answer was elsewhere. Anywhere but here. A big part of it is that there is an Israeli predicament. We live in a country that is contested, in a home that is contested, so that already creates the sense of a home that is flawed.

Looking back on my life, I realised that I left everything: my home, family, numerous lovers and my language. It started to feel like leaving was the thing I did best.- Ayelet Tsabari

"When you lose a parent, especially at such a young age when our identity is very much entwined with our parents, it can create a sense of rootlessness."

Diverse voices

"Canada is a country of immigrants and there are many people writing in a language that is their second language. There is something about that that is unique and actually informs your work in a wonderful way. It's a part of what makes your voice and I think people are appreciating that more now. You don't have to sound like everyone else.

"There's room for so many more voices. Yes, your story matters and your family's story matters and the language that you speak in and your ancestors, they're all valuable. It makes you you, and that's all we want. We want you."  

Ayelet Tsabari's comments have been edited and condensed.

 

 

 

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