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Disguise [Paperback]

Hugo Hamilton
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: 7.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

23 July 2009

Hugo Hamilton, the internationally acclaimed author of ‘The Speckled People’ and ‘Sailor in the Wardrobe’, turns his hand back to fiction with a compelling drama tracing Berlin's central historical importance throughout the twentieth century.

1945. At the end of the second world war in Berlin, a young mother loses her two-year-old boy in the bombings. She flees to the south, where her father finds a young foundling of the same age among the refugee trains to replace the boy. He makes her promise never to tell anyone, including her husband – still fighting on the Russian front – that the boy is not her own. Nobody will know the difference.

2008. Gregor Liedmann is a Jewish man now in his sixties. He's an old rocker who ran away from home, a trumpet player, a revolutionary stone-thrower left over from the 1968 generation. On a single day spent gathering fruit in an orchard outside Berlin with family and friends, Gregor looks back over his life, sifting through fact and memory in order to establish the truth. What happened on that journey south in the final days of the war? Why did his grandfather Emil disappear, and why did the Gestapo torture uncle Max? Here, in the calmness of the orchard, along with his ex-wife Mara and son Daniel, Gregor tries to unlock the secret of his past.

In his first novel since the best-selling memoir ‘The Speckled People’, Hugo Hamilton has created a truly compelling story of lost identity, and a remarkable reflection on the ambiguity of belonging.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (23 July 2009)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0007314701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007314706
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 541,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Sebastian Barry, Guardian (Book of the Year)

‘An eloquent and haunting book about identity and the construction of a self under duress….Though much of the historic and personal material here is brutal , the tone of the book is oddly consoling. He does tenderness very well.’ Hermione Lee, the Guardian

‘Subtle…a narrative that moves elegantly between past and present.’ Sunday Times

’This novel is about identity, both personal and national, the vicissitudes of memory, the impossibility and necessity of love. The opening is thrilling but Hamilton knows the real story is in the repercussions. And the final chapter is almost unbearably moving, wonderfully understated, damn near perfect.’ Rachel Sieffert, Financial Times

‘Hugo Hamilton has fashioned a monumental theme. He brings the reader through a whole series of microcosms, dancing flash pictures of different societies, different times. They all contribute to an overwhelming sense of unease, an unsettling shrine to emotional fear. The book and its skill are the reality.’ Irish Sunday Independent

‘Hamilton doesn’t discuss his writing with his family as for him it’s very much a “personal endeavour”. “Disguise”, however, is not one to keep to yourself; it is a book that raises questions about the personal and collective identity from a man in the know.’ Image Magazine

About the Author

Hugo Hamilton was born and grew up in Dublin. He is the author of five novels and two internationally acclaimed memoirs, ‘The Speckled People’ and ‘Sailor in the Wardrobe’.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Our identity is our instability" 25 Dec 2008
Format:Paperback
How we shape our identity, and how we inherit our instability, marked Hamilton's fiction long before his memoir of growing up under an Irish-speaking father and a German refugee mother in 1960s Dublin, "The Speckled People," introduced him to many readers. I've admired each of his books; many today may not know much about his first three novels, all about Germany. (I reviewed this trio along with his stories in "Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow" on Amazon.)

"Disguise" continues the searches of earlier families where after the war someone seeks his parent or her child. A son learns how his mother accompanied a Nazi officer who may have fired "The Last Shot"; another German mother faces Stasi-era duplicity in her quest to reunite through "The Love Test"; an Irishman delves into the GDR upbringing of his hosts before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in that "Surrogate City."

These novels all satisfy; "Disguise" enriches Hamilton's treatment here subtly, and elegantly. I'd estimate, having read his previous eight books, that he's aiming here for targets closer to the haunted legacies of countrymen John Banville or Sebastian Barry. There's a control of phrase and pacing here that recalls also European models. "Every now and again, an apple falls to the ground with a bony kind of thud, such as the sound of a hoof on the earth. The discovery of gravity each time." (47) Or, as uncertainty advances: "His entire existence was in Mara's hands, in her imagination, in what she agreed to believe and what she would dismiss. She held him like a porcelain figure, at her mercy, waiting to be dropped to the floor in tiny pieces." (148) Hamilton selects his words patiently, mulling over simple phrases.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Identity Crisis 9 Sep 2009
Format:Paperback
I picked up this book at a library promotion knowing nothing of the author or his previous work. The story concerns the main character, Gregor's, search for identity.

The book starts in Berlin during WW2. A woman is at home with her son (Gregor) while her husband is away fighting. The house is bombed and the boy killed. Emil, her father, a shady character, comes to fetch her home to Nuremberg bringing with him a young orphan boy who takes the place of the dead child. Emil then disappears (later we learn betrayed by a friend, Max).

We come to present day Germany where the adult Gregor is picking apples in the rather idyllic location of an orchard belonging to his wife. Also present are his son, Daniel, with his girl friend and other friends of the family. These contemporary passages are written in the present tense in a rather poetic style. Interspersed are flashbacks to Gregor's past chronicling the growing uneasiness he felt about his origins.

The theme - of a living child substituted for a dead one - is coincidentally dealt with in passing in Tom Rob Smith's very successful `Child 44'. As he grows up Gregor feels increasingly uncomfortable with his aggressively masculine father who fills the house with hunting trophies. A chance remark causes him to seek out Max, Emil's friend, and learn the truth about his origins.

Identifying himself as a Jewish survivor he runs away from home and leads a peripatetic life making an income through his musicianship. He meets Mara, the woman he is to marry, and tells her he is a Jewish orphan. They have a child and all goes well until he receives a letter from the mother (whose existence he has denied) saying his father is dying. When his indignant wife goes off to see the family he leaves and starts his travels again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Real Life 2 Nov 2010
Format:Paperback
I found this to be a great book from a great writer. I have a true story of hidden identity and I'm struggling to write the book. I wish I could write half as well as Hugo Hamilton. If you just want to know the story then read the reviews or the back cover, whatever. I too should have liked to have discovered the boy/man's real identity, but this book was about real life where we don't always get the answers we want, nor do we get the parents we might choose.
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Really pretty dire 21 Sep 2008
Format:Paperback
This book has had some good reviews in the Press, which I believe must come down to media people scratching each others' backs. In fact, this is a fairly awful book. For page after page, and in prose that lacks any kind of sparkle, Hamilton tells us things. He tells us what is happening. He tells us what people are thinking. He tells us what people are saying to each other. He tells us what happened in the past. Every 50 pages or so, he remembers the novelist's brief to entertain and actually SHOWS us what is going on, but then he slips back into tell, don't show mode. It's either that he doesn't trust our ability to understand without his heavy-handed direction, or he doesn't trust his own ability to portray something -- the novelist's fundamental skill. If it is the latter, I agree with him. He's right not to trust himself. I wouldn't trust him to report on a Canadian curling bonspiel, let alone something as complex as the human story he has chosen to let himself loose on. He takes a story that should have had the reader longing to know the outcome, instead of which -- and long before the end -- all the reader can think is, "Really. Who cares?" A waste of a good story. A poor book.
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Our identity is our instability": a German seeks his true past 25 Dec 2008
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
How we shape our identity, and how we inherit our instability, marked Hamilton's fiction long before his memoir of growing up under an Irish-speaking father and a German refugee mother in 1960s Dublin, "The Speckled People," introduced him to many readers. I've admired each of his books; many today may not know much about his first three novels, all about Germany. (I reviewed this trio along with his stories in "Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow" on Amazon.)

"Disguise" continues the searches of earlier families where after the war someone seeks his parent or her child. A son learns how his mother accompanied a Nazi officer who may have fired "The Last Shot"; another German mother faces Stasi-era duplicity in her quest to reunite through "The Love Test"; an Irishman delves into the GDR upbringing of his hosts before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in that "Surrogate City."

These novels all satisfy; "Disguise" enriches Hamilton's treatment here subtly, and elegantly. I'd estimate, having read his previous eight books, that he's aiming here for targets closer to the haunted legacies of countrymen John Banville or Sebastian Barry. There's a control of phrase and pacing here that recalls also European models. "Every now and again, an apple falls to the ground with a bony kind of thud, such as the sound of a hoof on the earth. The discovery of gravity each time." (47) Or, as uncertainty advances: "His entire existence was in Mara's hands, in her imagination, in what she agreed to believe and what she would dismiss. She held him like a porcelain figure, at her mercy, waiting to be dropped to the floor in tiny pieces." (148) Hamilton selects his words patiently, mulling over simple phrases. His own tri-lingual upbringing (English, Irish, and German) may account for his style, which attains a filtered quality distinguishing it from his contemporaries.

He takes on the fringes of a topic that's often overwhelmed the talents of imaginative as well as historical talents: the Holocaust. Hamilton, typically, engages the difficult question asked by Gregor Liedmann (note symbolic echoes), with grace and poise. Was Gregor a Jewish orphan who replaced Marie Liedmann's boy, who died in a bombing near the end of the war? She refuses to admit this to herself or her husband, after he returns from Soviet imprisonment.

The plot alternates between Gregor's 2008 day picking apples (with his estranged wife, Mara, their son, Daniel, and some old hippie friends) and Gregor's exploration of his roots while growing up in the GDR. An omniscient narrator does not admit much more that we need to know, but a reader may be assured that the information given beyond the indirect first-person perspectives of Marie, Mara, or Gregor must be compared with crucial expository details given in the first chapter that are beyond Marie's immediate knowledge, if I am correct. Hamilton's skilled in producing a novel that scans very quickly, yet flows vividly, mixing poetry with philosophy.

Sentences, too many to cite (I jotted down eighteen representative references easily), reveal Hamilton's in top form. There's nuance and power evoked by wartime havoc and lasting grief. The tragedy that cloaks Germany burdens all. Gregor comes of age as if, in Mara's mind, he's unable to foster a talent for love. Mara learns from Marie a conflicting narrative that claims her son's always been such. Mara too enters an uncertain realm where the loyalty to present-day family contends against unsubstantial, unsubstantiated claims to the contrary, that tug him back to a vague allegiance. Early in her relationship with Gregor, she resolves: "Together they would work and travel and reinvent the void he had come from. They would reimagine his true origins like a lost part of music that had been burned in a fire." (66)

The tension of Gregor's reinvention stretches until the final chapter. I'm withholding plot points so as not to spoil your experience. Not a thriller, but as emotionally cathartic for more honesty and less melodrama in confronting the legacy of modern German loss, rage, and shame, Hamilton integrates his study, his family's own past, and his authorial observations into a thought-provoking analysis of survivor's guilt. As in his début novel, "Surrogate City," Berlin now celebrates enduring rather than dreams of greatness. Today, Hamilton finds comfort in a humane response, as in apple orchards, to earlier slaughter as faced by the elder Liedmann, Emil, in WWI, when the cows grazed among the dead in other fields nearby. Skillfully, as with armed Emil facing a battalion of enemy (Russian?) women, or when in a few phrases the whole absurdity of GDR behind the Wall sums itself up by a schoolboy's innocent questions, Hamilton's able to compress much into little space.

One small admission: Daniel, his partner Juli, as well as Mara's sometime lover and Gregor's old friend Martin, needed filling out. Their friends on the apple-gathering day also flit about like extras in a film, when perhaps Hamilton's application of the telling detail for each of them might have fixed their roles better for our appreciation. The Irish sojourn, again, as with the dentist Mr Eckstein, could have been deepened or eliminated; as it is there's either not enough substance or too much digression. John Joe could have been a contender for a truly memorable figure, but he, too, lingers in the supporting cast. Gregor wanders about a lot, but you fail to feel his desires on the road when doing so compared with Mara or Marie's own struggles.

Hamilton in his memoirs and fiction has roamed around Germany, Ireland, and Europe. He addresses cultural encounters within larger problems but strives, at his best here, to keep contact with immediate, recognizable people. He does not let ideas take over his major characters. This is a intelligent consideration of how we can all be warped by dreaming rather than loving, by yearning instead of accepting. Perhaps, as Mara wonders, to cope with our turmoil we all need a disguise, an invented identity?
2.0 out of 5 stars Choose 26 April 2013
By Charles Pooter - Published on Amazon.com
I like Hugo Hamilton. I liked his autobiography "the speckled people", and I had a similar fractured multi-lingual upbringing with forced and forbidden identities. Disguise started with such promise, but fell flat.
OK, I was hoping for a resolution to the mystery (I thought the dentist in Dublin was going to turn out to be a relative!). Stupid, I know. Life doesn't give us answers gift-wrapped, but the angry son Daniel has a point. Do a DNA test! You can at least prove you're not a Liedmann.
I think what annoyed me most about Disguise is what a selfish prick Gregor is. So you may be an orphan. And? Does that mean you have to hate and turn your back on the parents who raised you? You want to be Jewish? OK, learn about the culture and religion then. He expects everything to be handed to him, but when it is, he turns and runs away. Why did he leave his wife and son? Is he that ashamed of being exposed as a liar? I don't understand his motivations, and spent most of the book just wanting to slap him and yell "snap out of it you whiner!"
My other problem with the book is Hamilton's sloppy writing. For someone as immersed in German culture as he is, how can he describe an irate driver in West Germany giving the finger? That happens now - pre 1989, people gave the cuckoo sign, which was unbelievably considered highly offensive. Likewise, would he ever pick the instrument Gregor plays? It's the guitar- no wait, the trumpet- or oh yeah, it's the piano. Yes musicians can be versatile, but if they're making their living in bands, they specialise. And come on, Hugo...Liedmann isn't exactly an Aryan name to begin with, now is it?
Other reviewers have pointed out that the supporting characters are not well drawn out, which makes Gregor such a frustrating character. I wanted to sympathise with someone, but his martyr caricature mother and wife were hard to identify with.
4.0 out of 5 stars Quick start, then slower, falls a little flat, but in the end gathers steam again. 19 April 2012
By Mitchell Waldman - Published on Amazon.com
An interesting well-written book. The first book I've read by this author. One of the problems I encountered was that the first chapter was so engaging and well-written that the second and those that followed seemed to fall flat. The premise being -- and this is no surprise, given away in that very first chapter -- a boy dies in a bomb raid on Berlin in WWII and is substituted for by another boy, perhaps a Jewish orphan, under a deep and unwavering secret, leaving the boy wondering throughout his life, and all those around him, as well, who he really is. Is his discovery through memory, without "proof" that he is not the person people think, a fantasy or reality?

After the first, intense chapter, the reading went slow, but picked up speed and became more engaging towards the end of the book, when the reader is looking to see how all the emotional loose ends will be tied up. An emotional read at times, but sometimes the narration seems a little distant. And the characters are not overly engaging and developed, but the suspense -- will the truth ultimately be revealed? -- did hold my interest.

All in all, this is a book I would recommend. -- Mitchell Waldman, author of PETTY OFFENSES AND CRIMES OF THE HEART
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and Poignant 6 Sep 2010
By M. D. Edwards - Published on Amazon.com
This is a convoluted story that is both intriguing and troubling. Intriguing in the concept and the telling and troubling in the effect the events have on the characters. If nothing else it shows the dire consequences of war.
The beginning of the book gives us a realistic, almost surrealistic picture of war and particularly the end of WWII in Berlin. The clash of German, American and Russian troops amid the bombing shows the horror of it all through the experiences of a mother who loses her only child to the bombing while waiting for her German soldier husband to get home from the Russian front. Meanwhile her father, a deserter and fugitive, tries to help her escape the chaos. Along the way they encounter an orphan the same age as her lost baby and the father convinces her to adopt the child as her lost Gregor.
The father is caught between the advancing Americans and the retreating Germans and is killed. But the hoax works. The husband makes it back safely and the three survive the war. Everything goes well until the adult Gregor meets with friends and family many years later and slowly learns the truth which no one wants to believe, especially him. The final resolution of the puzzle is satisfying and poignant.

Michael D. Edwards, Author of the recently released "Royal Ryukian Blues" a memoir of Okinawa.
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a very good novel 12 Jun 2009
By algo41 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Hamilton had a good basis for a novel: an orphan who is adopted at age 3, by parents who deny his previous identity. Some of the writing is good, such as the opening description of a German city under bombing attack. Still, "Disguise" is not a very good novel. The biggest problem is that the characters are not well developed. Because of this, it really doesn't have much to say about the problem of identity, although it would like to.
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