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Too Far Afield
     

Too Far Afield

5.0 1
by Günter Grass, Krishna Winston (Translator), Krishna Winston (Translator), John Hargraves (Translator)
 

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From the Nobel Prize-winning author of My Century and The Tin Drum, a novel of broad historical proportions set in Berlin during the years of German reunification.

Two old men roam through Berlin observing life in the former German Democratic Republic after the fall of the Wall in 1989. Theo Wuttke, a former East German functionary, is a keen observer and a

Overview


From the Nobel Prize-winning author of My Century and The Tin Drum, a novel of broad historical proportions set in Berlin during the years of German reunification.

Two old men roam through Berlin observing life in the former German Democratic Republic after the fall of the Wall in 1989. Theo Wuttke, a former East German functionary, is a keen observer and a gifted speaker. Ludwig Hoftaller is a mid-level spy whose loyalties shift with each new regime. Together, both men see what the future is bringing as they try to save what they can from the past and understand the meaning of being German.

A complex and challenging exploration of what Germany's reunification will mean-for Germans, for Europe, and for the world-Too Far Afield is a masterwork from one of Europe's greatest writers. Written with the wit, fantasy, literary erudition, and political acerbity for which Grass is celebrated, it is a deeply human story laced with pain and humor in equal measure.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

It is the work of a seasoned craftsman, certain of what he wants to do, completely in control of his gifts."-The New York Times Book Review
A perfect instrument for tracing echoes and parallels across German writing and history . . . No other German novelist could have pulled off such a feat."
-The Economist
A rich, troubling work that offers incontrovertible evidence of this great writer's undiminished artistry, integrity, and passion."-Kirkus Reviews (starred)
bn.com
Our Review
In Defense of More Complicated
With each passing year, history piles up unaccountably behind us, a morass of events and ideas, contingent or random, shifting, mounting, blowing about like sand on a windy shore. Historians do us the favor of ordering the morass, building a linked chain and bringing it to bear in some meaningful way on our present. Historical novelists perform a similar feat, selecting a narrative of consequence and through plot twists or seductive emotions making it meaningful, not to our present time so much as to our present state of mind. And then, there are those writers whose very subject is the weight and complexity of history -- writers like Günter Grass. His latest novel to be translated (beautifully translated) into English is Too Far Afield, which was published five years ago in Germany and is set more or less in 1989, the year of German reunification.

Twentieth-century German history, to put it very generally, is a tumult of contradictions, conflicts, and terrible failures. Grass, who's known as a social critic as well as Germany's greatest living writer, was praised for his searching and uncompromising portrayal of Nazi history in his 1959 novel, The Tin Drum. (Of his 23 subsequent publications, that debut was the one particularly cited by the Nobel Prize committee in 1999 when Grass won that award.) But it is for his outspoken criticism of current politics that Grass is considered a controversial writer in his own country. Too Far Afield is a scathingly ambivalent vision of German reunification, questioning "the idiotic pride in Deutschland that has always gone hand in hand with violence." And the novel is, in effect, quite a different way of looking at the triumphs of the Velvet Revolution.

Theo Wuttke is an elderly East German writer and historian whose work has become inextricable from his life -- history is so alive for Wuttke that he is seldom able to distinguish between past and present. He's particularly in the thrall of a 19th-century Prussian balladeer named Theodor Fontane, whose birthday he shares (100 years later), whose biography is spookily parallel to Wuttke's own, and who originally coined the now-proverbial German phrase "das ist ein zu weites Feld" ("that takes us too far afield"). Wuttke's identification with him is so notorious that he's popularly known as "Fonty," while he himself refers to Fontane as "The Immortal." And the way the two writers' lives conjoin and together span almost 200 years, they do seem nearly immortal. As a public intellectual, Wuttke has been under constant police surveillance in the form of Stasi spy Ludwig Hoftaller, his "Day and Night Shadow," who is the reincarnation of a 19th-century spy called Ludwig Tallhover. The names are interchangeable -- Hoftaller/Tallhover the spy is two-faced by nature. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the apparatus of Soviet rule in the East becomes obsolete, though the paradigms of both a united and divided Germany remain vital and vexed. Accordingly, Too Far Afield follows these two characters and their historical doppelgängers as their roles in the "new" Germany shift, reverse, and grow irrelevant. The collapse of past and present is emphasized by the novel's remarkable narrator, a group of Archivists, whose task it was under the former regime to collect and record information gathered by the secret police, and in the new regime, to attempt to make sense of history, much of which had been altered or destroyed.

But that's the simple version of the story. It is all in fact much more complicated. Too Far Afield is a formidable undertaking. Its complex of historical, literary, and political references, related in Grass's inimitable style, is easily as challenging a read as James Joyce's Ulysses. And as with Ulysses, an American reader might crave annotation, some kind of explanatory text to fill in the blanks. Though even in the absence of such guidance, Too Far Afield is well worth the commitment. History is a dense web, and Grass plunges right into his version of it; the first bewildering chunk is the hardest, but have faith. Substance doesn't always come easily, yet the endeavor pays off. For the rewards are absorbing, vivid, comic, tragic, and endlessly provocative.

Minna Proctor is a writer and translator. She lives in New York.

Economist
Grass's novel is a perfect instrument for tracing echoes and parallels across German writing and history...no other German novelist could have pulled off such a feat.
Times Literary Supplement
Grass has succeeded in setting down monuments to those dog days of division, with their linguistic shifts and iconography, rapidly changing cast of characters, uncertainty, and exhilaration.
Polityka
A broad and wonderful novel, full of surprising twists, grotesque jokes, and mocking reflections about Germany's fate over the last 150 years.
It is the work of a seasoned craftsman, certain of what he wants to do, completely in control of his gifts.
New York Times Book Review
It is the work of a seasoned craftsman, certain of what he wants to do, completely in control of his gifts.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Recent German unification is neatly, if protractedly, likened to the inner development of one of its bureaucrats in this novel of Berlin after reunification. The book is a worthy follow-up to My Century, which taught 100 years of history in human, understandable terms. Theo Wuttke, known as "Fonty" because he's obsessed with famous German novelist Theodor Fontane, is a former war correspondent now on his uppers as an elderly file courier in a government agency of the former German Democratic Republic. Blessed with an encyclopedic memory, Fonty often recites poems from different languages, to his co-workers' secret derision. Weary of life at the agency, he tries to escape--once to Scotland, another time to Great Britain--but a spy named Ludwig Hoftaller, himself an incarnation of a 19th-century figure and often called Fonty's "day-and-night-shadow," always finds him. Hoftaller's motivation is never made clear: perhaps fear that Fonty will leak German state secrets, perhaps loneliness, perhaps both. The past keeps impinging on the present; Hoftaller knows truths about marital infidelities in Fonty's past that keep Fonty from rebelling too forcefully. The two old men wander the streets of Berlin, each struggling with WWII guilt, as both of them had connections to Hitler's regime. Some overlong passages detailing German history will be lost on American readers, and Fonty's rambling monologues constantly threaten to bring the novel to a halt. However, the psychologically complex portrayal of a man's gradual relinquishing of his social position in order to keep his spirit intact is more than enough to maintain a reader's passion in the work. Fonty does manage to escape eventually, his victory that of a profoundly human figure who embodies both the bitterness and the sweetness of an era's passing. (Dec.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
When this hefty novel was first published in Germany in 1995, many readers reacted antagonistically, finding it unmanageable and rudely outspoken. This, of course, hardly comes as a surprise. Grass has always unswervingly spoken his mind through memorable characters. His latest work is another sober commentary conveyed through the words and actions of two eccentric and weary but always vigilant 70-year-old protagonists who observe the logic, the aftermath, and the inevitable price of German reunification. Through a clutter of references to Germany's turbulent history, Grass blends the past with the present and almost convinces us that social history is politics, and yet politics remains the history of one. Like the legendary The Tin Drum, this is only superficially a work of magical realism. One of the key sentences, "I'm afraid the shame will live on," which actually alludes to the evasive ending of Kafka's The Trial, suggests that what lies beneath this multilayered, if a bit overambitious, story is a potent message that transcends even the actual characters and their humanity. One cannot help but wonder if the demanding form and content would be more decipherable if the novel had the accessible format of Grass's recently published My Century. Nevertheless, the recognizable honesty of Grass's literature still hovers in the background. This is why we continue to revere him. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/00.]--Mirela Roncevic, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
James J. Sheehan
This is a quieter, gentler book, its tone more ironic, its pace more measured, its structure more cohesive. It is, nonetheless, a rich and complex book . . . It is the work of a seasoned craftsman, certain of what he wants to do, completely in control of his gifts.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
On the heels of Grass's Nobel Prize comes this graceful English version of his most recent (1995) and most controversial fiction: a potent criticism of German reunification, cast in the semi-fabulistic form employed so memorably in mega-novels like The Tin Drum and The Flounder. The story's set mostly in and around Berlin shortly after the "fall," in 1989, of the Wall dividing East from West Germany. Its principal characters are two elderly men. One is former war correspondent and public East German intellectual Theo Wuttke, now employed as a superannuated office boy by the Truehand, the agency entrusted with steering the former East Germany's enterprises and properties into the "new" country's economic mainstream. The other is Ludwig Hoftaller, a vaguely sinister (though perfectly affable) figure whose history as a spy and informer extends (in magical-realist fashion) back to the 19th century, when Bismarck's "unification" of warring German states bred the self-glorifying energies that would erupt in world war. The consequent linking of Germany's past and present (a recurring theme in Grass's fiction) is underscored by Wuttke's fascination with classic German writer Theodor Fontane (coworkers mockingly nickname Wuttke "Fonty"), whose famous 1895 novel, Effi Briest, supplies the complacent repeated phrase—urging one to sticking to one's business and avoid trouble—that gives Grass's novel its deeply ironic title. Too Far Afield is reflective and intermittently discursive, perhaps as much a meditation on aging and facing death (and taking stock of how honorably one has lived) as it is a dramatization of the repetitive pomposity and folly of Germany then and now. Withoutsomeknowledge of recent German history, many readers may find much of it heavy going (though a helpful glossary does precede the text proper). Still, it's filled with vivid and provocative symbolic incident (such as Wuttke's efforts to "preserve" an antiquated elevator in the building that formerly housed the Nazi Air Ministry). A rich, troubling work that offers incontrovertible evidence of this great writer's undiminished artistry, integrity, and passion. Hill, David BUTTERFLY SUNDAY Delacorte (288 pp.) Nov. 14, 2000

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780156014168
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
10/05/2001
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
674
Sales rank:
1,277,116
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.48(d)

Meet the Author

GÜNTER GRASS (1927–2015), Germany's most celebrated contemporary writer, attained worldwide renown with the publication of his novel The Tin Drum in 1959. A man of remarkable versatility, Grass was a poet, playwright, social critic, graphic artist, and novelist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999.
 

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Too Far Afield 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gunter Grass¿ reputation as a world-class author was cemented when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which was long time coming. Only the second Post-War German to win it, Grass has long examined, questioned, criticized, and sometimes applauded his country¿s often turbulent history; in turn, the author has also received harsh criticism (for ¿being too harsh¿!). In ¿Too Far Afield,¿ Grass features two elderly German men, Theo Wuttke and Ludwig Hoftaller, both in their seventies, and who now work for a company set up to privatize the former East Germany. The time is 1989 and the two offer critical, often comical, insights into the ¿world after the fall of the Wall.¿ At times surreal, as perhaps only Grass can be, as he did in ¿Cat and Mouse¿ and ¿The Tin Drum,¿ among others, ¿Too Far Afield¿ is a poignant reminder of what is, what was, and what is to come for Germany. The poignancy of the storyline carries the book, easily. More philosophical than action-packed (as Grass usually is!), this book is a perceptive insight into the German psyche, social structure, economic input, and all at the same time with two unforgettable characters presiding.