Sometimes the gap between recommendation and action is (understandably) wide, so put these on your list for later: Justin Cartwright and Hugo Hamilton.

Book Digest Sometime in the mid-’90s, in a conversation with British writer William Boyd, I offhandedly asked if he wanted to name a writer he thought deserving of wider recognition. “Justin Cartwright,” was his answer. I, with great singleness of purpose, went to Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop (sadly, the brick-and-mortar shop is no longer in business) and was able to acquire three or four of Cartwright’s novels. Strangely (or not), a dozen years went by before I got around to reading Mr. Cartwright and it turned out to be his latest novel at the time, The Song Before It Is Sung. Which, by the way, is a well-wrought fiction about the July 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

The first time I spoke with the fine Irish writer Joseph O’Connor the same question arose—he commended Hugo Hamilton, about whose memoir, The Speckled People, O’Connor enthused, a “book for our times and perhaps for all time.”

Anyway, the point here is the gap between recommendation and action has been almost halved. (Arriving at the point required only 154 words, but you do get two books for the price of one.)

Hamilton’s Disguise (HarperCollins) makes good use of the author’s German ancestry (as well as a brief cameo by his Irish roots with late scenes in Dublin and a minor character: a charismatic Irish musician). Thematically, Hamilton dwells on concerns about family and identity (lost and found) as he airs out the story of a man whose life has been (pre)occupied by the fact of his replacement/substitution for/of Gregor Liedmann, who dies at the age of three during the Berlin bombings late in World War II. The father of the traumatized mother replaces his dead grandson; the boy and the deceased Gregor’s father, who is fighting on the Eastern front, are not told of this. Later in life, “Gregor” learns of his origin and must at some point prove (or attempt to prove) his singular story to his wife. Hamilton nimbly lays out this unsettling story with dexterous, illuminating prose. As with my reading of Justin Cartwright, I’m sorry it took this long.

So it goes.
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