Sakal, Moshe. “The Diamond Setter”, translated by Jessica Cohen, Other Press, 2018.
Inspired by True Events
“The Diamond Setter” traces a complex web of love triangles, homoerotic tensions, and family secrets across generations and locations. We get a new look at life in the Middle East as it really is. Written by Moshe Sakal this is his first novel to be translated into English. The story is related by characters whose lives intertwine and revolve around a rare diamond.
In his first novel to be translated into English, Israeli writer Sakal uses elements of his own biography and weaves them into a story that is part mystery, part family history, and part myth. Tom narrates the story that starts when he begins an apprenticeship in his uncle Menashe’s jewelry shop in Tel Aviv. A customer comes into the shop with what she claims belongs to Menashe: a long-lost blue diamond known as “Sabakh.” Tom and his boyfriend, Honi, become involved with a young man from Damascus named Fareed, who may be connected to the diamond in some way. From this point, the story moves backwards as the characters’ lives are traced back through their respective family trees and into the history of the Middle East. We learn about the mysterious diamond and the lives it’s touched as it is set against the backdrop of the founding of the State of Israel and the deepening conflict that developed at that time. Sakal plays with boundaries while reality and fiction come together when Tom discusses the book he’s writing (also called “The Diamond Setter”) as the story progresses.
As the mystery of the diamond unfolds, characters’ lives cross in unexpected ways and we are reminded that we are all connected to each other in some way.
There is a fascinating obsession with property here. The question of who will inherit Israel when the time comes is never answered. We never really understand the meaning of the word “inherit”. On opposing sides are Menashe Salomon, the moral jeweler with an intricate history of its own and Amiram Kadosh, Menashe’s scheming, money-driven landlord who plans to renovate the building where the jewelry shop is and turn it into a boutique hotel. Between the two is a large cast of characters that includes respective children, friends, intimates, confidents, and forbears, some of whom the two men actually have in common.
This story is about Israel today as she is in her most liberated and existence. complex, acculturated, even liberated format. This is about Israel without looking at war, religion, disagreement, etc and t is sort of like a state of little America where there is a constant flow of cultures and languages. Several of the men and women here are gay or bisexual, and little is made of it and even the older characters have no problem with sexuality. The past is constant throughout and it provides solace and grounding. and grudges and arguing. The symbol of the past is “Sabakh,” the blue diamond. It had once been given to Gracia, a beautiful, talented, great aunt of Menashe’s, by a Turkish sultan as a reward for her singing. The diamond’s journeys and the subsequent “curse” attached to it become a major theme in the novel. Eventually it comes to Fareed, a handsome young Syrian who met Rami on Grindr. Rami introduces Fareed to Honi, another young gay man whose father is Amiram Kadosh, and from there the story begins to move. Fareed will return the diamond to its rightful owner and we will learn about the intertwining destinies of almost all of the many characters.
What we really see is a portrait of modern Israel that is good and positive. We read about the movement to equalize wealth and opportunity, and that understands that Israel cannot exist without its Palestinians and their own history and culture. It is all about economic justice and this is quite a different Israel than the one I lived in.
Fareed came to Tel Aviv with the intention of returning the diamond to its rightful owner and is soon swept up in Tel Aviv’s vibrant gay scene, and a turbulent protest movement. He falls in love with both an Israeli soldier and his boyfriend and shares the story of his family’s past that turns out to be a tale of forbidden love beginning in the 1930s that connects Fareed and the jeweler.
Writer Sakal presents us with a wonderful mosaic of characters, locales, and cultures that allow us to look beyond the present military conflicts. This is a fascinating look at the Middle East through the intergenerational lives and loves of its characters.