Boris Opp is a young Berliner, born into the chaos and commotion of the Second World War. But when his absent father returns from the Eastern front and remarks upon the absence of a birthmark above Boris' right eye, the child is suddenly thrown into an identity crisis that has him questioning the story of his birth. He begins to wonder, in part because of his Semitic features, whether he is in fact an orphaned Ukrainian Jew, stolen away by the occupying SS to be given up for adoption to a childless family back in Germany. It is this suspicion, so damaging and dangerous under the Nazi government, that proves to be the breakdown of his relationship with his violent and unforgiving father.
As his paternal relationship disintegrates, Boris turns to his kindly uncle, a once dutiful World War 1 veteran whose terrifying ordeals on the Russian front made him swear an oath against Hitler. But his uncle is loose with the truth, and his careless whispers fan the flames of Boris' now frenzied suspicions. These unanswered questions about his heritage and the obscured truth of his childhood continue to stalk him throughout his life – through his later career as a professor of linguistics at the University of Berlin – and onward to his death. It is only then, at the very end of his life, when the truth of his birth can finally emerge.
Part literary investigation, part historical novel, Disguise is an intelligent, poignant and brilliantly crafted story about a man's lifelong search for the truth of himself, and an allegory about the many disguises that the city of Berlin wore – from the decadence of the Weimar, through the oppression of fascism and communism – throughout the most turbulent period in its fascinating history.