Grass’s New Novel in U.S. Bookstores
TWIG - German novelist and Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass is renowned for his sophisticated and socially critical works. His novels The Tin Drum, The Rat and Dog Years have appealed to German and international audiences alike. Thus it comes as little surprise that his latest novel, Crabwalk, is being highly acclaimed by German and American critics.
Like many of Grass’s works, Crabwalk deals with Germany’s past and the dangers posed by repressed memory. The book tells the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise ship torpedoed in the Baltic Sea on the night of January 30, 1945, carrying as many as 10,500 people, most of them refugees fleeing the Red Army’s advance into the German enclave around Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland).
When published in Germany early last year, the novel was seen as a taboo breaker, because it implicitly claims that the time has come to acknowledge that some Germans were also victims of World War II. The novel addresses two long-buried wartime memories, that of Germans who were expelled from or fled territories once claimed by Germany, and more specifically, the thousands who died during the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Crabwalk has stirred debate in Germany about the hardships faced by Germans during the war. Recent publications such as Jörg Friedrich’s Der Brand (The Fire), a best-selling history of the Allied bombing of German cities, and W. G. Sebald’s essay "Air War and Literature" have added to the discussion.
"I was surprised by the reaction to my book," Grass told the New York Times in an interview published Tuesday (April 8). "I thought it would be of interest perhaps for the older generation. But when I do a reading, you see the old generation there, but also many very young people."
Grass stresses his intention in writing the book was not to
change the world’s perspective on World War II, nor to present the Gustloff
catastrophe as crime against Germany. "One of the many reasons I wrote this
book was to take the subject away from the extreme right," he says. "They
said the tragedy of the Gustloff was a war crime. It wasn’t. It was
terrible, but it was a result of war, a terrible result of war." That result
in no way lessens the gravity of Germany’s own war crimes, Grass suggests.
But it does represent a real disaster that was virtually ignored for years,
with very real emotional consequences.
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