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.