“Max’s Diamonds” by Jay Greenfield— Identity, Culpability and Loss

max's diamond

Greenfield, Jay. “Max’s Diamonds”, Chickadee Prince, 2016.

Identity, Culpability and Loss

Amos Lassen

In Rockaway, after the war, Paul Hartman is coming of age. His life has been one in which he seems to constantly think about his cousin Max who survived the Nazi camp of Auschwitz and amassed a cache of mysterious diamonds that fund Paul’s Harvard Law education (not too shabby) and which also adorn the engagement ring that he gave to his fiancée. If sounds fairly easy for Paul and it was until he meets a stranger from his past who comes to him with a demand and the result could change everything from his law practice to his marriage and his own sense of who he is. Paul has to make a choice and whatever he chooses has the possibility of changing all that he knows and is.

Step back with me to when Max moved in with Paul’s family and his mother told him not to look at the numbers written on his cousin’s arm but when Paul awoke the next day, it as all that he could see. Paul saw that the numbers on Max’s arm were also etched in his own mind. Paul, at this time, had no idea that the fact that he knew his cousin would cause a chain of events to begin and that these would impinge on his life later. As if that is not enough, Max took his own life in the ocean near the house where the family lived. But Max was clever and it seemed that he had planned everything out before he committed suicide. He left a violin case with an envelope inside in the bedroom that he shared with Paul. Reading the letter, Paul finds the combination to a safe and a key but he could not dwell on this because he was not alone; his cousin Bernie was watching him. He quickly put the envelop away but not before Bernie told Paul’s mother that that was something odd about Max that had to do with selling some mysterious diamonds. Of course, there were questions about the diamonds and where they had come from and how Max got them and he was answered with stories from the camp about the murder of Max’s son, about Max’s brother and about hiding the jewels and the keys to the boxes they were in. However, that is as much as she would say.

Paul decided that he wanted no part of this and threw the key and the letter into the ocean. He had no idea about what he had done or how it would affect his future but he learns later that he is affected by what he did. What he did not expect was that the Holocaust would be a major part of his life as would be the victims of it even though he had never experienced it directly. If you remember, I said earlier that the diamonds paid for his Harvard education but he also violated an oath he had taken before being admitted into the bar. There is something else—when dealing with a case with implications from the Holocaust, Paul will have to deal with morality. I realize that this is quite a long introduction but I have given nothing away and I hope that I have made it interesting enough to make you want to read “Max’s Diamonds”.

Jay Greenfield tells us the story of a man who hides his past and that includes a very traumatic childhood. The themes of secrets and lies show the grief that Paul deals with on an almost daily basis. He was unable to stop thinking about the numbers that he saw tattooed on Max’s arm. Even with this, Paul is able to succeed educationally, professionally and socially. We meet fascinating characters that are drawn not only as colorful but with flaws yet we can easily relate to them. There were moments that I could see these characters standing in front of me and acting out the roles they play in the book. Greenfield’s prose, along with his plot, draw us into the novel as we read about religious persecution, guilt and relationships built on lies. I found that more than anything else, the novel made me think and that is what I see as the true purpose of literature.

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