As the mystery of the diamond unfolds, characters’ paths cross in unexpected ways—reminding the reader that we are all, in...

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THE DIAMOND SETTER

A kaleidoscopic journey into the Middle East of the present and the not-so-distant past, told through the overlapping stories of characters whose intertwining lives revolve around the fate of a rare and storied diamond.

In his first novel to be translated into English, Israeli writer Sakal weaves elements of his own biography into a tale that is part mystery, part family history, and part myth. The story is told mostly by Tom, opening as he begins an apprenticeship in his uncle Menashe’s jewelry shop in Tel Aviv. A customer brings something into the shop 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 as well. From there, the book traces the lives of the characters back through their respective family trees and deep into the history of the Middle East. As the reader learns about this mysterious diamond and the lives it's touched, the backdrop is a vivid rendering of the time just before the founding of the State of Israel and explores the deepening conflict that developed concurrently. The ménage à trois between Tom, Honi, and Fareed is mirrored in the narrative by an earlier polyamorous liaison between lovers from equally disparate backgrounds, and these romantic entanglements could perhaps serve as a metaphor for love that crosses religious, national, and political boundaries. The family trees chronicled in the book are a bit convoluted, but ultimately this only adds a layer of verisimilitude; family histories are often misleading and mysterious, and only under close inspection can one decipher the truth and meaning in them. Sakal plays with metafictional boundaries as well: real life and fiction intermingle as Tom discusses the book he’s writing (also called The Diamond Setter) over the course of the story. The tale glides along smoothly in English thanks to Cohen’s fluid translation.

As the mystery of the diamond unfolds, characters’ paths cross in unexpected ways—reminding the reader that we are all, in some way or another, connected.

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59051-891-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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A bold, fertile work lit by powerful images, often consumed by debate, almost old-school in its feminist commitment.

THE BOOK OF V.

Esther, the Old Testament teenager who reluctantly married a Persian king and saved her people, is connected across the ages to two more contemporary women in a sinuous, thoughtful braid of women’s unceasing struggles for liberty and identity.

Biblical Esther, second-wave feminist Vee, and contemporary mother-of-two Lily are the women whose narrative strands and differing yet sometimes parallel dilemmas are interwoven in Solomon’s (Leaving Lucy Pear, 2016, etc.) questing, unpredictable new novel. All three are grappling—some more dangerously than others—with aspects of male power versus their own self-determination. Esther, selected from 40 virgins to be the second queen—after her predecessor, Vashti, was banished (or worse)—is the strangest. Her magical powers can bring on a shocking physical transformation or reanimate a skeletal bird, yet she is still a prisoner in a gilded cage, mother to an heir, frustrated daughter of an imperiled tribe. Vee, wife of an ambitious senator in 1970s Washington, finds herself a player in a House of Cards–type scenario, pressured toward sexual humiliation by her unscrupulous husband. Lily, in 21st-century Brooklyn, has chosen motherhood over work and is fretting about the costumes for her two daughters to wear at the Purim carnival honoring Esther. Alongside questions of male dominance, issues of sexuality arise often, as do female communities, from Esther’s slave sisters to Vee’s consciousness-raising groups to Lily’s sewing circle. And while layers of overlap continue among the three women's stories—second wives, sewing, humming—so do subtly different individual choices. Finely written and often vividly imagined, this is a cerebral, interior novel devoted to the notion of womanhood as a composite construction made up of myriad stories and influences.

A bold, fertile work lit by powerful images, often consumed by debate, almost old-school in its feminist commitment.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-25701-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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