Book Review — The Hiding Game

The Hiding Game
Naomi Woods

That first year at university, college or art school, when young people leave home for the first time and form new relationships with the world around them can become the framework for the rest of their lives. Thus begins Paul Beckermann’s journey through the Bauhaus school. It is 1922 and he and the other Bauhaus babies treat the town of Weimar and the surrounding forests like their playground. A quickly formed group of six offers up love triangles and jealousies. Paul loves Charlotte, Charlotte loves Jeno, Walter loves Jeno…

Told from Paul’s point of view decades later, he’s moved to England and is now Paul Brickman, famous abstract artist, The Hiding Game traces the life of the six friends and the Bauhaus school as it moves from Weimar to Dessau and finally Berlin, each time being pushed out by conservative (fascist) forces that dislike what the place stands for.

Without the backdrop of the Bauhaus, the story here is mostly your basic love triangle. Charlotte leads Paul on, loves Jeno, then returns to Paul, but he’s never quite comfortable or trusting of Charlotte’s love. The story of the art and the progress of the school, with cameos by Kandinsky, Klee, and the Albers, as well as Hitler’s disdain for “deviant” art parallels the main plot.

To make ends meet, Paul takes on work painting ugly landscapes, encouraging Walter to join him. The German mark is dwindling and Walter, influenced by their boss, begins trading goods in exchange for the dwindling currency. As the spectre of Hitler and Nazism loom and the story progresses into the 1930s, Woods takes her characters to a point where they all must decide their place in the devastation. Who will stay and who will flee? Who will work with the resistance, who is destined to become a Nazi? Who will betray their friends because of old rivalries never quite forgiven?

It is only as an old man, and a visit from an old classmate, that Paul learns the truth of what really happened to his friends when he fled to England, what they did and did not do for each other as the war began, and whether hurts that he had carried for decades were even justified.

Woods’ narration, as Paul, can feel a bit dry at times, but I think this is a stylistic choice, employed to show his naivete and desperate, immature love for Charlotte. He needs the closure revealed by his visitor to realize that his priorities have been misguided.

Published in 2019 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, Woods has clearly done massive amounts of research. The scenes within the school, including the famous parties, are the most well-rendered, and for fans of the Bauhaus, are like a secret peek into a world gone before our time. She captures a very special group of people at an historic point in time, and while it’s presented in the compact and partisan form of Paul’s memories, the broader scope of these events is not lost on the reader.