Text Publishers, Moscow
Berlin Verlag, Berlin
Michael Cherikover left Russia for Israel ten years ago. He is a cripple who spends his days knotting carpets out of rags, and looking out the window of his Jerusalem apartment, and making sure that everybody around him feels guilty.
Michael is a man of contrasts: half Jewish and half Russian, half “homo-post-sovieticus” and half new Israeli. This makes him a typical representative of the influential Russian segment of Israeli society. He has also developed his own bizarre philosophical approach to life: Zionism and the Arab danger, America and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, women and love, money, pain and loneliness, kibbutz inhabitants and the dilemma that there is enough sausage, but unfortunately only kosher, which has no taste. This all mixes itself up together in his head. His wife calls him an anti-Semite, because he asks himself if there isn’t also something unpleasant about Jews that they can sense themselves. But he immediately feels himself a Jew when he learns that an insurance company in Germany is offering a huge reward for the recovery of the Red Diamond.
The world-famous Red Diamond belongs to a collection of stolen gems that comes into Michael’s hand completely by chance. This means the end of his quiet life. The police, Interpol and the insurance company are after the stones. Michael’s search for a hiding place for the stones leads to more and more complications, like a policeman absentmindedly playing with a bundle of rags, into which Michael has sewn the diamonds so that he can knot them into a rug; or the neighbor, a Moroccan Jewess from France, takes the carpet with the diamonds from Michael’s apartment, thinking that it is the one that he promised her. Michael has to stage an amorous visit to her so that he can cut the stones out of the carpet. Another example is the time that he is admitted to the hospital, and, of course, takes his collection with him. It is his bad luck to have a roommate who is a jeweler who recognizes the Red Diamond. Some of the stones get lost along the way, like the one in the clinic’s laundry, or the one that falls under a steamroller. The Red Diamond moves from hand to hand, gets lost and found again and again.
Michael is convinced that every person has a foreordained destiny, and that some are not created to be rich. The “damned” stones throw his whole life into disarray: his Russian wife Tatyana leaves him and runs off with an orthodox Jew named Ezechiel. She decides to convert to orthodoxy, and their daughter Galina runs away to Cyprus to marry Azzam, a Palestinian whose family lives in the occupied territories. Things get even more complicated when Azzam is gunned down by unknown perpetrators who suspect him of collaborating with Israel. Tatyana and Galina are injured by the bomb, and when they are treated for their wounds, it comes out that Galina is expecting Azzam’s baby. All this bad luck is the fault of the Red Diamond, but every time he has a chance to finally get rid of it, Michael just cannot bring himself to do it.
“The Red Diamond” is a fast-moving, exciting novel with elements from a police thriller, but nevertheless a book in the tradition of Russian Literature. The novel revolves around an insignificant man, around the little white lies and the great big ones that make up his life, and around his total selfabsorbedness. The style of the first-person narrator with his free-ranging asides on life and its stumbling blocks, the tragicomic descriptions of the petty-minded world of the average members of society recall the satires of the great Russian author Michail Zoshchenko. It is an amusing piece of reading that sometimes leaves the reader choking with laughter. In addition to this, the novel offers a new view of Israel from an unusual perspective.