"Just had a hunch,” says Moshe Sakal, an Israeli writer, whose novel The Diamond Setter has recently been published in the United States to much acclaim. “I started working on the English translation even before the Hebrew original was finished. I felt it was the right thing to do.”
Together with Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, Eshkol Nevo, Dror Mishani and others the 42-year-old Sakal is one of a number of young Israeli writers who have made a successful debut in the US, until recently an almost entirely impenetrable market for up-and-coming Israeli novelists. As well as commercial success, they are on the radar of literary movers and shakers – from big publishers to the book pages of national newspapers, a privilege hitherto bestowed only upon the likes of Amos Oz and David Grossman.
The Diamond Setter is Sakal’s fifth novel, but the first to be published in English. His fourth book, Yolanda, about a generation of migrants to Israel from neighbouring countries, was shortlisted for the Sapir Prize, Israel’s most prestigious award, and became an instant bestseller. A French publisher snapped it up days after its Hebrew publication, and it sold well in France too.
Getting published in America required more effort, but Sakal thought the subject matter – a Middle Eastern-themed gay love affair – would resonate with American readers. A contract with Penguin Random House soon followed, and his early hunch about the novel’s English language appeal was vindicated in robust sales figures.