Thursday, 14 August 2008

Disguise by Hugo Hamilton

4th Estate
YOU can't live your life on a hunch, Gregor's best friend tells him; but that's what he does.
Gregor lives in disguise from the day when a black market dealer hands the child over to a woman whose own child has been blown to smithereens in the bombing of Berlin.
The dealer is the woman's father, Emil, a man with contacts and lovers from Poland to Alsace, himself soon to disappear in the explosion that is the world war.
Gregor grows up thinking he's the woman's son. His 'father' comes home from the war obsessed with hunting and survival, and teaches him how to find the right mushrooms and berries, how to live in the woods when you have nothing.
Then one day Uncle Max - who may or may not have betrayed Emil to the Gestapo under torture - lets the secret out.
Gregor becomes convinced that he's a Jewish child, smuggled out, one of the saved, one of the Chosen.
Jew: it's a word that causes its own explosions in a Germany trying to forget its guilt.
His best friend, Martin, says "Welcome to the club" - he's the son of a Russian officer - perhaps the child of rape. Forget it, you can't let the past devour your life, he pleads.
But Gregor can't stop travelling, trying to unravel the truth or leave it behind. His own son grows up, and people remark that he's the spit of Emil.
Hugo Hamilton's new novel starts, literally, with a bang, but strays a little in its examination of identity, nationality, ancestral guilt, race memory and other big questions.
They're questions that beg for an answer, even a wrong answer, but here they can get only thought.

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