Precious Objects by Alicia Oltuski

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 her first book, 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 and sometimes suspicious 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 connection between Jews and the industry, the gem and its lore, and the exotic citizens of this secluded world. 

Visit Alicia Oltuski's official website, and scroll down to read the Twitter discussion with the author that occurred on January 18th 

JewishBook: .@aliciaoltuski how are you? thanks for joining us today at #jbcbooks Twitter Book Club!

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook Thanks for having me! #jbcbooks

JewishBook: .@aliciaoltuski To kick off, can u tell us when you realized your connection to the diamond industry could be turned into a book? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks I was writing about my father in college and found that the more I wrote about him, the more I wrote about diamonds

AliciaOltuski: #jbcbooks .@JewishBook (he never spoke to me a lot about the details of his business, which helped make it an even more seductive topic)

JewishBook: .@aliciaoltuski ah, but then how did he feel about having half a book written about him?! and his industry #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks When I 1st started working for him, he said, 'You can look and listen, just don't write abt anything you see here'

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks He graciously came around, though :)

NYCBook: .@aliciaoltuski was your summer job with your father research for this book? or was did it help inspire you to write it? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: @nycbook .@JewishBook #jbcbooks It was definitely research! I think of it as literary evesdropping :) Good question!

JewishBook: Twitter Book Club now with @aliciaoltuski, author of JW mag Dec book of the month. #jbcbooks

BookGal102: .@aliciaoltuski other than your dad, who was the hardest person to convince to participate in your research? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks My father got on board very quickly. There were a few people who, at 1st, were a bit hesitant to talk, but I found ..

AliciaOltuski: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks that once we started having a conversation abt their experiences, they were surprisingly candid.

NYCBook: .@aliciaoltuski is there anyone/any thing that happened that you had to leave out of the final book? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@nycbook @JewishBook #jbcbooks For the sake of narrative cohesiveness, forward motion, & mercy (4 the reader), I left out several sections

AliciaOltuski: .@nycbook @JewishBook #jbcbooks This might be weird, but I take a certain delight in shortening my writing-almost always makes things better

NYCBook: .@aliciaoltuski what were those sections on? different aspects of the industry? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@nycbook #jbcbooks Anecdotes, some dialogue, that scene where I purchase the Taylor-Burton #diamond. Just kidding .@JewishBook

BookGal102: @AliciaOltuski Was it difficult to find the right tone for telling your story? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@BookGal102 .@JewishBook I thought a lot about tone and found that it depended entirely on the part of the book I was writing. #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@BookGal102 .@JewishBook The process itself felt heterogeneous in tone. #jbcbooks

ScribnerBooks: RT @scribnerbooks hope to see you at Twitter Book Club today at 12:30 feat. @aliciaoltuski! Follow along at #jbcbooks!

JewishBook: .@aliciaoltuski who was the most interesting person/character you met while doing research for the book? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks My personal favorites were Elvis, the singing jeweler, and the diamond detectives. But it's hard to choose.

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks In many ways, I began to think of my subjects as characters whom I was exploring in addition to people I came to know

JewishBook: .@aliciaoltuski it would be hard to choose between Elvis and the Sherlock Holmeses of the Diamond District! #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook Word! #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@aliciaoltuski I was fascinated by LifeGem.. #jbcbooks

NaomiFirestone: .@aliciaoltuski ... what’s the difference between earth and lab-made? can you speak more about this? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: @NaomiFirestone #jbcbooks Chemically and physically speaking, there's no diff between the two. Some feel, tho, that the particular ...

AliciaOltuski: .@NaomiFirestone #jbcbooks geological history - the oldness itself - has a certain appeal that can't be rivaled. Others say bring on the lab

NaomiFirestone: .@AliciaOltuski Is there any way for a general person to know the difference just by looking at it? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@NaomiFirestone No (most will say) without the help of technology or a learned expert. #jbcbooks

NYCBook: .@aliciaoltuski has anything about the diamond district changed since you wrote the book? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@nycbook #jbcbooks Yes! The Barnett building has gotten taller, for one. I've also been noticing greater amnts of younger #diamond dealers

JewishBook: .@aliciaoltuski what’s been the response from the diamond district about the book? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks I had no idea what it would be, but the industry has shown excitement, which I'm really thrilled about. I just did ..

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks a fun event for the #GIA at the Nat'l Arts Club in NY, which was a blast

JewishBook: .@aliciaoltuski ooo what was involved? was it a make-your-own-diamond-earrings event? we would have gone! #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook That's a great idea! But this was a lecture/signing and general ogling of the environs (which include Tiffany glass) #jbcbooks

NaomiFirestone: .@AliciaOltuski I can't decide if I hate it or love it... :) #jbcbooks

NaomiFirestone: .@AliciaOltuski LifeGem I mean.. #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@NaomiFirestone I think that's a common reaction-along with smtms initial horror But then I found there's a real appeal for many #jbcbooks

JewishBook: .@aliciaoltuski @naomifirestone weirdly enough none of us were particularly horrified... we're thinking #JBCGroupDiamond (made of hair, obv)

BookGal102: .@aliciaoltuski are there any other pieces of the dmnd ind that reflect its Jewish roots (like the deals signed with “mazal”)? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@BookGal102 Many diamond bourses are closed on Fri nights and Sats. Also, the demographic in certain hubs (tho this is changing) #jbcbooks

NYCBook: .@aliciaoltuski what’s the current situation with fair trade diamonds? have they gotten caught on more? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@nycbook #jbcbooks At the moment, many would say #FairTradeDiamonds don't exist, but ppl are working hard toward them...

AliciaOltuski: .@nycbook like @rapfairtrade. There's also the Diamond Development Initiatives, which is working to bring us development diamonds Im hopeful

JewishBook: .@aliciaoltuski so to round up our awesome chat do you see yourself involved in the diamond industry in any way in the future? #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: .@JewishBook I don't. I've always been more interested in writing than diamonds, but writing about diamonds has been a party #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski : .@JewishBook It's allowed me to explore a secretive world that was, at once familiar and mysterious #jbcbooks

JewishBook: Dang, nice tweet to end with @aliciaoltuski, you've been awesome! Thanks to everyone for participating!! #jbcbooks

AliciaOltuski: Thanks so much .@JewishBook and everyone who asked qs! Will we be seeing a Jewish Book LifeGem at this year's event? #jbcbooks