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

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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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