By Ronn Torossian/JNS.org
I recently picked up an advance copy of a book by a new author named Jay Greenfield. What makes him unique is that he's a career lawyer and a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, who retired from the firm to devote his time to writing novels rather than legal briefs. Now, at 83 years young, Greenfield is releasing his debut novel, “Max’s Diamonds,” through Chickadee Prince Books on May 1.
“Max’s Diamonds”—a post-Holocaust story that captures the pains and memories of the Shoah, while exploring the lives that grew out of the darkness—follows the life of Paul Hartman, who grew up in the Jewish immigrant neighborhood of Arverne in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. Paul was immersed in a culture he urgently tries to escape. His cousin Max, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, appears in Paul’s realm shortly, but changes the trajectory of Paul’s life entirely. Max brings a cache of diamonds to America that were gained through the suspicious actions of the Nazis. He commits suicide before explaining where the diamonds came from, so Paul grows up understanding that Max was hiding something both tragic and dangerous, and he becomes dead-set on leaving behind his Jewish heritage, Holocaust associations, and family.
Max’s final message to Paul was to “beat the goyim at their own game”—whatever that means—and Paul takes the message straight to heart, in part to satisfy the guilt he feels for not somehow stopping Max from taking his own life, and also for using the proceeds from Max’s diamonds for his Ivy League law degree.
Paul is wildly successful in this endeavor, eventually finding himself in a White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) family, and as a token Jewish lawyer in a white-shoe law firm. But at every major turning point in his life, Paul is conflicted between the life he created for himself with the help of Max’s mysterious diamonds, and his past. The pressure he is under drives him into a panic, causing his love life and career to suffer. Paul needs to constantly reinvent himself to stay ahead of the family to whom he feels he owes something. Paying the price for using Max’s diamonds to break into American high society, Paul becomes beholden to his extended family, but chooses to secretly give back to Jewish organizations and remain somewhat involved in his Judaism, while publicly appearing dissociated from religion.
That Paul benefited from Max’s ill-gotten diamonds is the primary cause of Paul’s secrecy and panic. If anyone finds out about the diamonds, Paul fears his American life will unravel. And yet, even Paul does not really know just what it is about the diamonds that makes them better when kept a secret!
More secrets are revealed as the book progresses, and the reader is left hoping that Paul can resolve his feelings about his past, open up to his family and friends to at least clear the air, and perhaps discover what really happened both in Europe and in Paul’s own life. The story of the diamonds is heartbreaking and well worth the quest Paul goes on to avoid hearing too much.
The novel is a fast-moving page-turner, with unpredictable plot twists and engaging dialogue. As the mystery eats away at Paul, so too does it irk the reader, compelling him or her to continue uncovering the story ahead of Greenfield’s words. Paul’s romantic partners are simultaneously sympathetic, heartless, and assertive women who could warrant spin-off stories exploring their own lives. But Paul himself is a psychological case study of a first-generation American Jew growing up in post-World War II New York.
The associative guilt, anti-Semitism, and moral dilemmas make this novel a must-read and must-share, as it rings with some familiar tones and mysteries. For anyone who grew up with friends, parents, or grandparents who survived the Nazi onslaught, the often deep-seated fears, anger, and repressed memories lend to mysteries within, as well as a desire to know more about what they experienced—knowing that we may never really know what they had to do to survive.
Jay Greenfield wrote “Max’s Diamonds” so that we can relate to—and even get a glimpse into—those buried memories.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5W Public Relations.
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