(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Nicholas Shakespeare’s Snowleg, the protagonist Peter Hithersay is driven by a need to discover his identity, both in terms of uncovering his heritage and in terms of recognizing who he is as a human being and man. His obsessions have two anchors. First, Peter learns on his sixteenth birthday that the man he has always called "Daddy" is not his actual father, and that instead he is the product of a one-night liaison his mother had with a dissident years earlier in Leipzig, East Germany. Peter’s curiosity about his heritage grows until he decides to attend college in Hamburg.

The second pivot of Peter’s life occurs when, as a college student, he accompanies a group of theater friends to a performance in East Germany. In an encounter that parallels the circumstances of his own origins, Peter meets and is soon intimate with a young woman he knows only by the nickname of "Snowleg." In youthful exuberance he boasts that he should rescue her from East Germany, but when he actually has the chance to help her, he pretends not to know her, causing her to run afoul of the frightening and sinister East German secret police. He is haunted for the rest of his life by these two mysteries: where does his past lie, and what kind of a man is he?

Twenty years will pass, but nothing he finds over the years will provide the answers he needs. As a medical school graduate planning on becoming a pediatrician, he soon spirals out of control through amphetamine abuse. Every relationship he enters into falls apart, and as he enters middle age he finds himself a caretaker of the elderly, a serial womanizer, a distant father to a son born from wedlock, and above all a man unable to find peace within himself. He will make one last trip to Leipzig in an attempt to put back the sundered pieces of his life.

Snowleg shows the danger of obsessions, how no betrayal stings as much as the betrayal of self, and the need for understanding. Most of all, it demonstrates the need of the human heart to forgive itself.