[personal profile] magister
Gunter Grass, author of The Tin Drum, Dog Years, The Flounder and many other books, has died. His novels formed a sort of social history of Germany since the rise of Nazism in the 1930's up to the post-reunification Germany we have today. The best comparison I can think of is James Ellroy's attempt at an underworld history of America in the 20th century in his LA Quartet and the sequence of books starting with American Tabloid.

The similarities end there though. While Ellroy's books make a fetish of gritty realism, Grass is happy to include elements of the supernatural. Talking rats and fish appear and a 3-year old boy is able to stop growing at will, to write on glass using only his voice and to communicate only through his tin drum. Grass also likes his characters and is happy for them to have simple pleasures in their lives - whether it be food or sex or friendship. The easy comparison to make is with Salman Rushdie - both interweaving the everyday, the supernatural and the grotesque into magic realis picaresque fiction. One of my German literature tutors at university reacted badly to the suggestion though. As I am a poor man and not totally at ease in my grasp of the libel laws, I shall not go into detail, although Rushdie did not fare well in the comparison.

Grass was considered by many to be the conscience of post-war Germany - something which attracted a deal of criticism, particularly after his confession in 2006 that he'd served in the Waffen SS towards the end of the war. I'll simply observe that Grass was a boy of 17 and that I would not fare well if judged by the choices I might have made at that age.

Pretty much everything I enjoyed about my first degree came from reading Grass, so I'm left with a sense of regret that somewhere, Oskar's drum has finally fallen silent.

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James Brough

July 2017

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