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THE BEST PLACE ON EARTH

STORIES

Tsabari creates complex, conflicted, prickly people you'll want to get to know better.

Where is the best place on Earth? The characters in Tsabari's debut collection (winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature) are searching for somewhere to feel at home, whether they're travelers, emigrants, or just restlessly living in the place they were born.

Tsabari was born in Israel to a family of Yemeni descent, and she moved to Vancouver in 1998; she only started writing in English 10 years ago. Her Israeli characters feel out of place in their own country because, like Tsabari's family, they come from Arab backgrounds and aren't Ashkenazi, like most Israeli Jews; some have left for Canada or Britain. In "A Sign of Harmony," Maya travels to India with her new boyfriend, Ian, who has an Indian father and an English mother and has never been to India before. It's her fourth trip—she travels there each fall to buy fabrics and other merchandise to sell in Europe—and she feels more at home than he does. Several of Tsabari's characters are traversing the foreign land of adolescence, trying to make friends and test their sexuality while dealing with larger forces. Lily moves from Canada to Israel to live with her aunt after her mother dies, and is scared and thrilled when her new friend Lana kisses her. But her family's identity is always in the background when she's in Israel: "My grandparents came from Yemen, so we are Arabs in a way, Arab Jews." Seeming contradictions like that are everywhere in Tsabari's world. In "Invisible," Rosalynn is a Filipino immigrant who's overstayed her visa; she takes care of an old woman she calls "Savta," Hebrew for "grandmother," who also takes care of her. Characters embrace their mandatory army service, run away from it, or use it to their own ends. In the stunning opening story, "Tikkun," the first-person narrator runs into his ex-girlfriend, whom he hasn't seen in seven years, and is surprised to see she's become an Orthodox Jew. As they sit down to share a coffee, the narrator scans the patio, taking in the other patrons: "We are all trained to identify potential threats." One woman grew up in a small town in the Sinai, which she was forced to leave when Israel returned the peninsula to Egypt, but she doesn't want to label her family as "settlers"—"It was different then. They didn't go there for ideological reasons." But is it possible to be innocent in this world?

Tsabari creates complex, conflicted, prickly people you'll want to get to know better.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8893-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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  • New York Times Bestseller


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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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