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Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Lifeby Alicia Oltuski
Synopses & Reviews
In the middle of New York City lies a neighborhood where all secrets are valuable, all assets are liquid, and all deals are sealed with a blessing rather than a contract. Welcome to the diamond district. Ninety percent of all diamonds that enter America pass through these few blocks, but the inner workings of this mysterious world are known only to the people who inhabit it.
In Precious Objects, twenty-six-year-old journalist Alicia Oltuski, the daughter and granddaughter of diamond dealers, seamlessly blends family narrative with literary reportage to reveal the fascinating secrets of the diamond industry and its madcap characters: an Elvis-impersonating dealer, a duo of diamond-detective brothers, and her own eccentric father.
With insight and drama, Oltuski limns her family’s diamond-paved move from communist Siberia to a displaced persons camp in post-World War II Germany to New York’s diamond district, exploring the connections among Jews and the industry, the gem and its lore, and the exotic citizens of this secluded world.
Entertaining and illuminating, Precious Objects offers an insider’s look at the history, business, and society behind one of the world’s most coveted natural resources, providing an unforgettable backstage pass to an extraordinary and timeless show.
"The diamond trade has long been as shrouded in mystery as the precious gem itself. Oltuski, daughter of a diamond dealer, brings clarity in this study of the industry, with a special emphasis on New York's diamond district, the small neighborhood that handles 90% of the diamonds entering the U.S., its ties to the Hasidim and their unique bargaining vocabulary. Hers is a workmanlike account of the various aspects of the trade — its South African origins, the intricacies of mining and grading, and the growing online commerce in stones — sparked by her own desire to better understand her father's business. Oltuski diligently covers the darker side of diamonds — how the brutal conflicts in Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Angola were financed by and fought over the gemstone — leavening it with precisely observed accounts of the delicate, almost balletic haggling among the New York dealers. Oltuski makes a commendable effort at literary journalism, with revealing observations on the centuries-old link between Jews and the diamond industry, and sparkling accounts of her familial ties to the business. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A piercing, intensely readable book. Ms. Oltuski guides us through New York's diamond business, one of the world's most fascinating and hard-to-penetrate communities, with great aplomb." Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
"Alicia Oltuski is an intrepid journalist able to write with precision and insight about the big issues in the diamond trade and the intimate details of life on Forty-Seventh Street." Tony Hall, U.S. Representative
"Beautiful and thrilling, Precious Objects, sparkles with life. Alicia Oltuski tells both the story of her family, as glittering as the gems they sell, and the story of the diamonds that have taken them all over the world and across the generations. A fascinating and gripping read." Jennifer Gilmore, author of Something Red
"Epic in scope and wonderfully personal, Precious Objects is an impassioned, insider's take on a complex industry. What's most dazzling are Ms. Oltuski's characters, who are vivid, outrageous, and never without some glimmers of wisdom." Beth Raymer, author of Lay the Favorite
"A warm and detailed tour of a fascinating culture that hides in plain sight. You'll never see a diamond twinkling on a woman's finger without remembering the remarkable characters in Oltuski's book." Dan Baum, author of Citizen Coors
A fascinating look at one family's journey from diamond dealing in Communist Siberia, to the historic diamond district on New York’s 47th street.
About the Author
Alicia Oltuski received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA in writing from Columbia University, where she was awarded a David Berg Foundation Fellowship. Her work has appeared on NPR's Berlin Stories, in The Faster Times, The Bulletin in Philadelphia, and other publications. She has taught at the University of the Arts and lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband.
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History and Social Science » Sociology » Jewish Studies