Sivan Slapak’s Debut Book: Here is Still Here

Sincere and intimate, sentimental and sanguine, Sivan Slapak’s debut book Here is Still Here, is brought together as a collection of sure-footed short stories. Isabel, the wanderlustful protagonist, embarks on a journey from Montreal to Jerusalem, from a middle-brow suburbia to a bohemian land of urgent possibility. Her curiosity leads her from one moment, lover, and longing to the next. Slapak’s stories present the kind of clarity intended to assure her readers of self-actualization and genuine connection.

Sivan Slapak’s Debut Book: Here is Still Here

Initially, her hope is to find a husband and have children, but soon after, she abandons all her “traditional notions of love”, “long dresses, laws, and intimate blind coffee date with strangers across expansive coffee tables in hotel lobbies.” Preferring not to take conventional and unimaginative routes; instead, Isabel is at home, in a subterranean and seedy underground dive called Club Farnakht, where dark-lean Yiddish literaries and Klezmer musicians “flirt strenuously” with lines like “your burning black eyes.” Most lovers in Isabel’s life are fleeting. Oftentimes, her romantic relationships become friendships, and abscond, into the nebulous territory where both parties are in the no man’s land of “ kind of friends and kind of lovers.”

All the while, Isabel looks to deepen her understanding of her identity with a phenomenology of love, turning to Kabbalistic mysticism, consulting a French psychic in a trendy Tel Aviv cafe, and an eccentric matchmaker named Malka . Witnessing her friends and former flames tie the knot and break the ceremonial glass, Isabel neither envies nor frets; instead, she feels a weight lifted off her shoulders. Ameliorating her longing, Isabel transforms it into a newly discovered freedom. Unbroken by the prospect of being unable to find a contemporary equivalent of Isaac or Rebecca through betrothal, crystal-ball’s, or clairvoyants, “Sometimes you just need to let yourself. Let yourself be free”, a heavily intoxicated rabbi told her.

Things get lighter for Isabel. She decides to embrace everything that comes her way, learning Arabic from a Palestinian coworker in exchange for teaching him English. At the advice of a platonic close-friend, she enrols in University to finish her degree, and takes up running, qualifying and finishing a marathon. She rekindles her Yiddish at a summer program in Lithuania, and goes back and forth from Montreal to Jerusalem. Yet, throughout her excursions, the only constants are the women in her life. Long phone conversations with her younger sister Lorin provides her with a light-hearted approach to relationships. Moreover, the candid and sensible inner-voice inherited from her Bubbe, a holocaust survivor, provides her with the strength and motivation to navigate singlehood, strangerhood, and precarious love affairs.

Slapak’s prose contains the kind of humility that touches upon truths borrowed from her own life. Her prose makes a pull between aloofness, pensiveness, and the aspiration of something akin to love the centre of her work. In doing so, nothing is concealed, and the reader is persuaded that Isabel’s journey, with its dreamy cast of characters, and contemplations on love and life, really counts.

Sivan Slapak’s Debut Book: Here is Still Here

Sivan Slapak resided in Jerusalem for two decades before relocating back to Canada in 2013. Her literary works, including short stories and essays, have found homes in The New Quarterly, Montreal Serai, and carte blanche, as well as in various collections from Véhicule Press and Guernica Editions. Slapak’s has been recognized with accolades such as becoming a finalist in the CBC Quebec Writing Competition, clinching the Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Award once, and being a finalist twice. Based in Montreal, Slapak is actively engaged in the arts and culture sector. Her debut book, ‘Here Is Still Here,’ was released in March of 2024 by Linda Leith Publishing.

 

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Samuel Wise is a poet and musician living and writing in Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood.