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During the Second World War, Grass volunteered for the submarine corps at the age of fifteen but was rejected; two years later, in 1944, he was instead drafted into the Waffen-SS. Taken prisoner by American forces as he was recovering from shrapnel wounds, he ...
During the Second World War, Grass volunteered for the submarine corps at the age of fifteen but was rejected; two years later, in 1944, he was instead drafted into the Waffen-SS. Taken prisoner by American forces as he was recovering from shrapnel wounds, he spent the final weeks of the war in an American POW camp. After the war, Grass resolved to become an artist and moved with his first wife to Paris, where he began to write the novel that would make him famous.
Full of the bravado of youth, the rubble of postwar Germany, the thrill of wild love affairs, and the exhilaration of Paris in the early fifties, Peeling the Onion—which caused great controversy when it was published in Germany—reveals Grass at his most intimate.
The German edition of this memoir by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Grass caused a stir with its revelations about the author's youthful service in the Waffen SS combat unit during the last months of WWII. According to his deliberately disjointed, impressionistic account of the war, Grass never fired a shot and spent his time fleeing both the Russians and German military police hunting for deserters, but he dutifully shoulders a "joint responsibility" for Nazi war crimes and a guilt and shame that "gnaw, gnaw, ceaselessly." With less to repudiate in his postwar life as a budding sculptor and poet up to his 1959 breakthrough with The Tin Drum,he grows more engaged in his story as he recounts love affairs, bohemian idylls (he once played in an impromptu jazz quartet with Louis Armstrong) and his attempts to sift emotional wreckage from the past. Along the way, Grass notes people and events that he reworked into fictional characters and plots, and does quirky profiles of influential figures, including his penis and typewriter. In this otherwise very novelistic memoir, there's not much of a narrative arc, beyond the satisfaction of the author's perpetual "hungers" for food, sex and art, but Grass's powerfully evocative memories are spellbinding. (June)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Nobel laureate Grass, Germany's greatest living author and moralist, shocked just about everyone last year when he revealed that he once was a member of Hitler's elite Waffen-SS. The real surprise, however, was not that he served in the infamous Nazi unit but that he concealed his service for decades while harshly criticizing his countrypeople for failing to deal adequately with their Nazi past. In this English translation of his latest autobiographical memoir, Grass tries to explain why his story is more complicated than it sounds and discloses how he was finally driven by guilt to reveal this shameful episode in his past. He sketches his life since early childhood in Danzig (now Gda ´nsk, Poland) and through the late 1950s, deliberately mixing his real life and the characters from his fictions in a process that, not unlike the peeling of an onion, uncovers layers and produces tears. The memoir's beauty and poetic tone should not be overshadowed by the controversy surrounding its author's mea culpa. In any case, as critics acknowledge, his legacy will be his rescue of the national language from linguistic abuse by the Nazis. Highly recommended for all large collections.
Excerpted from Peeling the Onion by Grass, Gunter Copyright © 2007 by Grass, Gunter. Excerpted by permission.
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Skins Beneath the Skin 1
His Name Was Wedontdothat 64
How I Learned Fear 105
Guests at Table 160
At and Below the Surface 202
The Third Hunger 248
How I Became a Smoker 292 Berlin Air 344
While Cancer, Soundless 367
The Wedding Gifts I Received 395
Posted May 29, 2010
"Peeling the Onion" is Günter Grass' autobiography, translated from the German ("Beim Haüten der Zwiebel"), and published in English, the Summer, 2007. As a general auto-/biography, this will be an interesting read for anyone. For those who have studied Günter Grass and his works, this will help them have a deeper insight into his writings.
During World War II, Grass joined the SS and kept that from public knowledge for decades. Here he made it public and apologized, and that revelation overshadowed much of the exceptional literary artistry of this memoir.
"It weighed on me," he said. "My silence through all those years is one of the reasons I wrote this book. It had to get out, at last."
Grass was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature. After Grass' admission of his wartime service, there were many calls for him to return his Prize. Critics considered him the worst hypocrite because the Germans' difficulties in facing their WWII truth had been a constant theme of his literary and political life.
In this memoir, Grass explores the nature of memory, creativity, and truth itself as he "peels the onion".
There are those who think Grass is brutally honest here and holds nothing back, and those who think he doesn't quite seem to "tell all". In any case, Grass does reveal the real-life basis for many of the characters and locations in his novels.
"The Tin Drum" ("Die Blechtrommel"), his 1959 novel, is his undeniable masterpiece. (Not until 20 years later was a film adaptation made.)
Among the reasons given for awarding Günter Grass the Nobel Prize was that his "frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history".
Posted July 19, 2009
No text was provided for this review.
Posted December 23, 2008
No text was provided for this review.