the observer Sat 25 July 2009
In the last year of the Second World War in Berlin, a young boy is taken in by a mother who has lost her son in a bombing raid. The exchange is concealed and the abandoned child is given the name and identity of the dead boy. The insinuations of a family friend lead the boy to believe he is Jewish and he runs away, gets circumcised and becomes a musician. Hugo Hamilton, an Irish novelist whose mother was German, arranges this narrative around a series of delayed and contradictory revelations. The crisp style gives cohesion to the book's complex structure, but his efficient sentences can veer towards empty platitudes: "Nothing is real in the end, not until it's reported. Nobody is real unless they have a witness for their lives."