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Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 2, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (March 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743235606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743235600
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,312,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

It would take quite a story to live up to the melodramatic title of Edward Ball's Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love. Fortunately for the reader, the bizarre and highly compelling tale of Gordon Langley Hall and his transformation into Dawn Langley Hall is quite a story indeed. Novelists couldn't have dreamed up a more fascinating central character than Hall. Born the son of British servants, Hall, as a boy, befriended Virginia Woolf and her lover Vita Sackville-West. As a young man, he made his way to New York, becoming a biographer of some society figures and endearing himself to others including heiress Isabel Whitney who left him an inheritance that allowed him to move to Charleston, South Carolina, and gain entry to the colorful world of Southern society. In 1968, Hall underwent a sex change operation, claiming that the procedure was corrective and that she had actually possessed female sexual organs all along. Further complicating matters for the people of Charleston was Dawn's marriage to a young black mechanic and the appearance of an infant daughter. Author Edward Ball (Slaves in the Family) first came into contact with Hall through a uncover more about her. Although it is a biography of Hall, Peninsula of Lies is also equal parts mystery as Ball tracks down key figures from Hall's life, attempts to separate truth from legend and find the points at which the two intersect. As the facts of her life are brought into the light, Hall's psychology and motivation become more inscrutable and we are left with more questions than answers. Edward Ball's investigative persistence is tempered by a kindness toward his interview subjects, which, combined with his rich descriptions of 1960s Southern living, make Peninsula of Lies a lively read. But it is the impression left by the enigmatic Dawn Langley Hall that is sure to linger after the book is over. --John Moe

From Publishers Weekly

Gordon Langley Hall (1922-2000), a biographer who underwent one of the most celebrated gender switches in the 1960s, is the focus of this meandering expose of Southern snobbery. English by birth, Langley Hall was the son of a maidservant at Sissinghurst Castle (made famous by Vita Sackville-West in the 1930s). Leaving England in the bleak postwar era, he eventually made his way to New York, where, after befriending an elderly heiress, he inherited enough of her money to start a new life in the "Peninsula of Lies," Charleston, SC. There Langley Hall started an antiques business and mixed with Anglophile society who ignored his quasi-Cockney accent and origins. At age 45, he met a teenage garage mechanic, John-Paul Simmons, and promptly made an appointment at the new Gender Identity Clinic at Johns Hopkins, the first U.S. hospital for sex change operations. Newly a woman, "Dawn Pepita Hall" married her mechanic in a lavish church ceremony, defying in one stroke gender expectations and the racial codes of the American South, for she was white, her husband black and the year 1969. Most perplexingly, she emerged two years later with a baby girl, Natasha, whom she said was her own. Edward Ball, who won the National Book Award in 1998 for Slaves in the Family, had enough material here for a longish Vanity Fair piece; through judicious padding and an unstoppable barrage of irony, he has made a murky, garrulous detective story. If there are easy ways to try to make transsexuals look silly, then in the machinations of his hero/heroine, he's got a whole barrel of fish to shoot dead. Unfortunately, Ball never lets us sees what might have motivated either Gordon or Dawn. In his evocation of a tawdry, snooty Charleston, populated with colorful coots, he keeps trying for that old John Berendt magic, and missing every time. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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The conclusions reached at the end are just flawed.
This strange life gets a fascinating exposure in _Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love_ (Simon and Schuster) by Edward Ball.
R. Hardy
I finished reading this book over the weekend, and found it well written.
C. Blair

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved Edward Ball's first literary efforts, Slaves in the Family and The Sweet Hell Inside. They both touched my heart in a way that few books have managed. So I ordered Peninsula of Lies: A Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love before it was even published, anticipating great things. I must admit that I was rather disappointed. Ball follows the life of Gordon Hall, who claimed his gender was misidentified at birth. Gordon (Dawn) ends up in the 1960's living in Charleston, SC, and the book traces his sex change operation, his marriage to a black man, and the birth of a daughter.
Ball sets out to answer some troubling questions including: Was Gordon/Dawn really misidentified as a male at birth? What exactly did her surgery entail? Was her daughter really her biological daughter? And if not, where did she come from? Ball conducted lots of research including interviews with family members, friends, and even some of Dawn's doctors. As a result of this research, Ball gives us a crash course on sexual deviations including the difference between homosexuals, transsexuals, transvestites and hermaphrodites. He also recounts the history of sex reassignments (sex change operations) in the 20th century. And in the process, he unravels the mystery about the controversial figure.
Before Peninsula of Lies was even published, it was touted as Charleston's answer to John Berendt's bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Unfortunately, Berendt fans will be greatly disappointed. Midnight has increased overnight tourism in Savannah by tens of millions of visitors, as readers flock to the city to see the various sites mentioned in the book (especially the Mercer House). Peninsula of Lies will have a fraction of that impact on Charleston, if any.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Hamilton on September 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Fame eluded Gordon Langley Hall as a writer, even though he was a prolific scribbler of memoirs and novels. When he became one of the first people to undergo sex change surgery in America, Hall's local notoriety in Charleston, South Carolina, was unpleasantly mixed with malicious gossip.Edward Ball's new book, Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love, may give Hall, now dead, the recognition that eluded him in life. Ball (author of the National Book Award winner Slaves in the Family) set out to settle two mysteries that have circled one of Charleston's most celebrated-and outrageous-personalities for decades. Was Hall, as he claimed, a hermaphrodite who was misidentified as a male at birth? And did Hall, as he also claimed, conceive and give birth to a daughter, Natasha?

Ball's quest to resolve these burning issues takes him from Charleston to England where, as a child of the servant class, Hall had few opportunities for economic and social mobility. Then the biographer tracks his subject to New York where Hall became the protege and, at least in some sense, the lover of Isabel Whitney, an heir to the cotton gin fortune. His liaison with Whitney, perhaps more than his subsequent sex change, altered Hall's life forever. When she died, his mistress made him a millionaire.

As a Charleston transplant, Hall charmed local society with his English accent. Charlestonians, Ball indicates, didn't pick up on the cockney overtones that would have made Ball's attempts to penetrate the upper classes a wash back in England.

Then, perversely, Hall throws away his tenuous new foothold in the Charleston party circuit by changing his gender from male to female and re-emerging as "Dawn.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By W. Zwaduk on January 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Talk about a person who totally believed their own truth...

I'd never heard of Gordon Hall before this book, but the blurb intrigued me. There were plenty of times when I seriously questioned most all of Gordon/Dawn's motives and stories. Why? Because it just seemed so far fetched. But, this did make the book an intriguing read. I had to know what would happen and how Ball would unravel this story. It's really twisted, but totally worth the trip. Ball's storytelling is fluid and kept me needing to know what would happen. How would things turn out for Dawn and her family? How would she explain it all away?

I have to give Dawn this: she was a trend-setter and a vanguard. To do what she did in the times she did them should grant her some respect. By the time I finished the book, I pitied her, but respected her chutzpah.

Good read, finished it in a matter of hours. Worth going back for if only for the interesting side stories.

Nab a copy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By T. Dreiling on August 13, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really liked this book. I couldn't put it down and stayed up until 4:00am to finish it one sitting. I found the relationship between Dawn and Natasha extremely moving. They had a mother / daughter love and devotion to each other that would, and did, survive anything that life had to throw at them, which was a lot! Natasha's care giving of Dawn at the end of her life is what love is all about. Anyone who thinks that a transsexual can't make a fit parent should read this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on May 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Gordon/Dawn was a fascinating character and this book is intriguing reading. Just who was Dawn? How much of her story was true and how much fiction? What is sex? What is gender? Like Middlesex this book is mind-expanding.

The other reviews have explained the book itself, so I won't try to do so.

But for those readers who'd like to find out more about Dawn, read "Me Pappoose Sitter" written by Dawn as Gordon, then read "She Crab Stew" written as Dawn. Both are absolutely hilarious, especially "She Crab Stew" which is unlike anything else I have ever read! Through these 2 books, I think that we can see more about Gordon/Dawn's inner self and life outlook in her own novels, than in this book.

(Me Pappoose Sitter is semi-autobiographical, and She Crab Stew is a comic novel with a main character that seems to me to be Dawn's alter-ego.)
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