Moshe Sakal translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

The Diamond Setter

Publication Date: Mar 20, 2018

320 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $15.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 978-1-59051-891-5


List Price US $8.99
ISBN: 978-1-59051-892-2

Inspired by true events, this best-selling Israeli novel traces a complex web of love triangles, homoerotic tensions, and family secrets across generations and borders, illuminating diverse facets of life in the Middle East.

The uneventful life of a jeweler from Tel Aviv changes abruptly in 2011 after Fareed, a handsome young man from Damascus, crosses illegally into Israel and makes his way to the ancient port city of Jaffa in search of his roots. In his pocket is a piece of a famous blue diamond known as “Sabakh.” Intending to return the diamond to its rightful owner, Fareed 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–the narrator of this book–and reveals the story of his family’s past: a tale of forbidden love beginning in the 1930s that connects Fareed and the jeweler.

Following Sabakh’s winding path, The Diamond Setter ties present-day events to a forgotten time before the establishment of the State of Israel divided the region. Moshe Sakal’s poignant mosaic of characters, locales, and cultures encourages us to see the Middle East beyond its violent conflicts.

Excerpt from The Diamond Setter

According to the map, Rami’s apartment was not far. Fareed turned right on Sha’arei Nikanor Street. There was a shop on the corner selling charcoal and hookahs, and just after that a Jewish-Arab youth club, across the street from a daycare center. Further down the road was a house, and then another house that Fareed stood and stared at for several minutes through the gate. It had a pomegranate tree in the garden, and two stone lions worn by time and rain perched on either side of the front steps. He tore himself away and kept walking down the narrow street. Every so often he saw graffiti on the walls: waqaha, one of them read, in Arabic, and then explained in what Fareed assumed was Hebrew: chutzpah. Similar translations were provided for other words: khatar—danger, and huriyya—freedom.

When he passed the third house on the left, his heart started pounding. But he didn’t dare stop, only gave the house a sideways glance. The road curved downhill, and the old houses gave way to new marble buildings two or three stories high. Then, straight ahead, between two buildings, he saw the sea. The Yafa sea.

At the end of the street stood a restaurant with tables scattered around the courtyard. A group of people sat drinking beer, smoking, and eating out of dishes piled with maqluba. Fareed turned the corner, and after passing a very old building, he finally recognized Rami’s house from the picture: a two-story building with a grand but crumbling entrance; only the windows attested to the residence’s glorious past. Three steps led up to the front door. A ginger cat lay sprawled across the second step, serenely licking her nipples. Fareed walked in and went up to the second floor. He stopped outside the door and steadied his breath. He knocked twice, and when there was no answer, a third time. The door finally opened.

“Richly evocative.” —Booklist

“A kaleidoscopic journey into the Middle East of the present and the not-so-distant past…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.” —Kirkus Reviews

“If you enjoy richly plotted intergenerational stories inspired by true events, Moshe Sakal’s The Diamond Setter offers bountiful pleasures…a gloriously immersive journey into different cultures.” —Forward

“…what’s best is the unselfconsciously sensuous writing (with a range of sexuality easily accepted) and the beautifully depicted sense of a time gone by when borders were open and Jew and Arab commingled.” —Library Journal

“[An] essential read…[one] of 2018’s biggest titles…a vital depiction of queer life in the Middle East.” —Entertainment Weekly

“There are…sparkling, beautiful passages in this novel…The Diamond Setter is very relevant: Jaffa and Tel Aviv represent a modern city’s role in justice, the quest for equality, and continuing rationality in a very irrational area of the world.” —Huffington Post

“Sakal makes room for his narrative to encompass huge issues: the geopolitics of the Middle East, gentrification, sexuality, borders, aging, and the bonds of family. Yet this book never feels ponderous: Sakal keeps things moving briskly throughout…the charm of the novel’s characters and the humanism with which Sakal tells this story go a long way.” —Words Without Borders

“Well written, masterfully translated by Jessica Cohen, and rewards rereading.” —New York Journal of Books

“Lush, imaginative, and seductive, Moshe Sakal’s The Diamond Setter offers a perfect combination of passion, suspense, insight, and beauty. Jessica Cohen’s brilliant translation only further enhances the reading experience, making it into a true literary treat.” —Ruby Namdar, author of The Ruined House

“A fascinating glimpse into an early twentieth-century Middle East, where familial entanglements and intimacies of all kinds still flourished between Jews and Arabs.” —Judith Frank, author of All I Love and Know

“Moshe Sakal’s books make me miss a life I never lived. In The Diamond Setter, he surpasses himself [with] the blue diamond’s wonderful journey across continents and nations. A rare book by a rare writer.” —Ari Folman, Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee for Waltz with Bashir

“The blue diamond ‘Sabakh’ becomes the underlying common thread that interweaves fascinating and beautiful characters, bridging different generations and countries in this captivating novel from Moshe Sakal. The Diamond Setter is a mystery that unfolds brilliantly. I cannot recommend it enough.” —Hasan Namir, Lambda Literary Award–winning author of God in Pink

“Moshe Sakal’s The Diamond Setter is an ambitious novel that is epic in scope (even while most of its geography comes back to a small section of Tel Aviv/Jaffa) and at the same time tightly focused on the intergenerational lives and loves of its characters. Like one of the titular multi-faceted gemstones, it’s reflective and refractive—actively twisting and weaving our perceptions of history and myth (personal myths and national myths) and even the very notions of narrative itself, breaking the fourth wall of the novel as it explores activism, politics, pinkwashing, and the Arab Spring, love triangles, and the notions of home and the right(s) of return.” —Lawrence Schimel, two-time Lambda Literary Award–winning author and translator

“With beautiful and loving language, Sakal looks through the eyes of [his characters] to tell a story of Jaffa and Damascus in the early part of the last century, and today. The pages exude the aromas of a vibrant life that has since vanished.” —Haaretz

  1. Who is the diamond setter of the novel’s title? Why does Tom want to tell his story? After finishing The Diamond Setter, do you think the novel is his story, or something else altogether?


  1. On page 132 Tom says he is trying to “tell the story of two families that on the one hand belong to two enemy nations, but on the other hand are connected through bonds of love and secrets, from back when the Middle East was steeped in love and not only in blood.” Does he achieve this? What are the bonds of love and secrets he refers to?


  1. Who did Sabakh belong to before it ended up in Menashe’s family? How does Rafael characterize Sabakh? How does Ayelet characterize it? Why do you think they each have such disparate reactions to it?


  1. What do Moussa Kadosh and Sami have in common?


  1. How are Fareed and Tom related?


  1. On page 30 we learn that Fareed speaks English. How does that affect his stay after he crosses the border?


  1. The Diamond Setter is populated by characters of varying religions, ethnicities, and languages. In the novel, does the tension between the characters arise from these differences or from something else?


  1. What role does “the right of return” (p 49) play in the novel? Who returns to their homeland? Who is unable to, and why?


  1. On page 114 Amiram Kadosh, Honi’s father, takes him out to dinner and tells him the story of Menashe’s family. How does his story differ from what you already know of Menashe’s family? What effect does different characters giving their own versions of the same story have?


  1. Tom is “interested in finding out whether you can love more than one person at the same time” (p 132). Do you think it’s possible? What does Tom discover at the end of the novel?