Max’s Diamonds, by Jay Greenfield, is actually two books in one. The overarching story is the mystery of some diamonds. Diamonds that were smuggled out of the ovens of the Holocaust to find a new home in America. Where did they came from and where are they hidden? Who did they really belong to and how did Max come to own them? The diamonds consume everyone in the story and become the driving force behind the narrative. This book is also the story of survival, of Auschwitz, and the guilt of having foresight. It is the story of a lost world, a loss of innocence, and a loss of humanity. It is a story shrouded in shame. There is a lot of unspoken shame.
But more than the diamonds, there is an amazing underlying story; the story of the Jews of America. Those who came before the Holocaust and those that survived. What did this event in history mean? How did it effect the Jewish-American experience? What was the lasting outgrowth of being the victims of state sponsored genocide? What did it do to the psyche of those who were charged with getting on with their lives? How did the Holocaust effect those who had been spared? How did the Holocaust effect even those that it never touched?
Through the protagonist, Paul, we see the story of modern American Jewry. A people apart, and a people so desperate to partake in the America dream that they were willing to give up all that they once were. A people running from terror and afraid that that terror would follow them to their sanctuary. The unspoken ideal of “sha-shtil, be quiet, don’t make a fuss.” The changing of who you were, the embrace of a foreign culture, and the misplaced priorities of success, importance and generalized social acceptance.
Through Paul we see a community grow, develop and become that all-promised American success story. But we also see what is thrown away. We know that somewhere in the dark recesses of history, and Paul’s shallow existence, is a Jewish soul calling out. It wants to be seen. It wants to thrive. It wants to be alive. And, as history is so determined to regain what had once been hidden, that part of Paul that had long been denied, that Jewish soul, once again becomes a living breathing ideal, embodied in a lost daughter, and a resurrected nation, Israel.
We see Paul come to terms with all that he has thrown away. He understands what he has lost and how he must strive to regain his own dispossessed history. Paul is the epitome of American success. He is also the symbol of all that American Jewry has lost.
When you turn the last page of this book, it will not leave you. You will understand the mystery of the diamonds, but the moral and ethical issues it poses will stay with you. This story will have you questioning your own outlook, and leave you wanting to figure out exactly what kind of legacy do you wish to leave your own children.