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Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love

3.31  ·  Rating Details ·  119 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
"Peninsula of Lies" is a nonfiction mystery, set in haunting locales and peopled with fascinating characters, that unwraps the enigma of a woman named Dawn Langley Simmons, a British writer who lived in Charleston, South Carolina, during the 1960s and became the focus of one of the most unusual sexual scandals of the last century. Born in England sometime before World War ...more
Hardcover, 271 pages
Published March 2nd 2004 by Simon & Schuster
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Judy
Nov 08, 2016 Judy rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
My advice is don't bother with this book unless you are a history buff. So why did I put it on my 2016 challenge. First, Edward Ball is a terrific writer and researcher. I've read two of his books and have another on my list. He takes somewhat obscure topics and does an incredible job of presenting what his research shows in a readable way. Second, the subject matter of transsexualism and the entire field of sexual attribution is such a hot topic in current news. This book deals with a person ...more
Caitlin
May 29, 2010 Caitlin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
I really liked Edward Ball's other two books, Slaves in the Family and The Sweet Hell Inside, but this one falls into the just okay category.

Gordon/Dawn is an interesting enough character, but ultimately not very likeable. S/he is in most ways a cipher and remains a cipher throughout the book - missing from the story, in a very real sense. This is much less a book about his/her life and much more a book about the author trying to figure out the true gender of his subject. Was Gordon/Dawn interse
...more
Merredith
Jul 28, 2010 Merredith rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one, really
This is a book where a writer, on the strength of being contacted by a woman about a family heirloom antique months before, randomly decides to attend that woman's funeral and then investigate her life and write a book about it. Surprisingly, her family, friends, and associates, take this tenuous association as a real reason to spill everything in her life to him. This woman, Dawn, began life as a man, Gordon, and transistioned in the 1960s. I didn’t like the style of writing. It made everything ...more
MB (What she read)
May 20, 2009 MB (What she read) rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Readers of Middlesex by Geoffrey Eugenedes
Intriguing, May 21, 2008


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.

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 Soup" written as Dawn. Both are absolutely hila
...more
Ginny
Jun 24, 2012 Ginny rated it liked it


I have been hearing about Gordon Langley/Dawn Langley Simmons my entire life. My mom was from Charleston and I remember vividly the tales of the charming english man who tried to take Charleston by storm socially. He did pretty well until he became a she and then married a black man. This was unheard of in the 1960's in Charleston, SC. As my mother told it and is confirmed by the book, Dawn all of a sudden appeared pregnant in maternity clothes on the streets and then was seen pushing a baby car
...more
Seoda
Dec 31, 2007 Seoda rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book, especially for anyone who has ever lived in Charleston. Although the story may seem "sensational", this is the tale of an individual participating in what could be considered very unremarkable things-- marriage, home ownership, parenthood. However, every rule of convention is broken in these pursuits, and the result is a fascinating story that keeps you guessing until the end.
Is your identity based on what you believe to be true-- what you tell other people and yourself? Or
...more
Lizzie
Jun 12, 2008 Lizzie rated it really liked it
Gordon Hall came to the US from England, became a biographer, then inherited a fortune from an old lady he’d befriended that allowed him to make a new start in Charleston SC. There, he became Dawn Langley Hall, supposedly raised by Vita Sackville-West. She said the surgery was to correct a defect rather than a sex change. She married a blue-collar black man, which didn’t go down well with the Charleston folks, then announced she was pregnant and gave birth to a baby. Did she? This is both the ...more
Larry Friedman
Jul 04, 2015 Larry Friedman rated it liked it
I thought this was a fascinating tale on two fronts. First, the mystery surrounding the true facts of the life of Dawn Simmons and the arrival of her infant daughter. Second is the look at the culture of Charleston in the early days of civil rights for African Americans and before homosexuals were commonly out. There is also an interesting exploration of the history of the study and "treatment" of people with ambiguous genitalia and transsexuals. All in all, I found the story engaging and ...more
Heather
Feb 23, 2013 Heather rated it really liked it
Very engaged in this story especially having recently moved to Charleston. I read it in 1 day but have to say Bell could have cut out 100 or so pages of redundant/repeated facts (I just skimmed those paragraphs). My 1st E Bell book so I'm not sure if his others are written similarly.
Danette
Aug 20, 2008 Danette rated it it was ok
Disappointing. From the description, I thought it would be much more intriguing. But, it was a chore to power through. Although, I kept going because I wanted to get to the truth, which came out in the last 10 pages - the most interesting part of the book.
Michelle
May 30, 2008 Michelle rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"the author doesn't create the most streamlined story and jumps around a bit, causing a little bit of a jumble puzzle in the process and one is left with a lot of unanswered questions at the end of the day. regardless of that, it is a bizarre tale that keeps you turning the pages.
Wendi Zwaduk
Feb 05, 2013 Wendi Zwaduk rated it really liked it
Very interesting read. Opened my eyes to what people will believe. Writing is crisp and flows well.
Catherine
Dec 17, 2008 Catherine rated it really liked it
I read this book over four years ago, but I do remember that I was intrigued throughout as the mystery unfolded.
Carol Johnson
A train wreck of a life. It was painful to read but I wanted to finish it. I don't recommend it. I felt very badly for Natasha, the daughter....very disturbing!
Kristen
Jan 06, 2013 Kristen rated it really liked it
While not the very best written book, it is fascinating and well researched. You have to admire the moxy Dawn had.
Marilou
Apr 10, 2009 Marilou rated it it was ok
Actually never finished it and probably won't. Ultimately I stopped caring about this very odd person. I love tranny stories, but this one didn't quite keep my interest.
Guy
Guy rated it it was ok
Apr 19, 2009
Janet
Janet rated it really liked it
Jun 19, 2012
Joanna
Joanna rated it it was ok
Aug 02, 2009
Susan Mathieu
Susan Mathieu rated it liked it
Jul 17, 2015
Andrea Martin
Andrea Martin rated it it was ok
Oct 11, 2016
Shali
Shali rated it liked it
Jul 23, 2015
Phil Thomas
Phil Thomas rated it liked it
Feb 15, 2014
Karen
Karen rated it really liked it
Jul 12, 2014
Yvonne O'connor
Yvonne O'connor rated it really liked it
Jun 29, 2011
Karlene Failor
Karlene Failor rated it it was ok
Feb 17, 2013
Bette Hester
Bette Hester rated it really liked it
Jul 26, 2013
Melissa
Melissa rated it liked it
Jan 29, 2013
Stephanie Clark
Stephanie Clark rated it liked it
May 07, 2011
Carl
Carl rated it liked it
Dec 05, 2012
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Edward Ball was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1958, grew up in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. He finished high school in New Orleans and attended Brown University, graduating in 1982 with a B.A. in Semiotics.

He received a Master of Arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1984, and afterwards moved to New York City, where he worked as a freelance art critic, writing about film, art, arc
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