The Year’s Culmination : What a Book !

Just a quick note to share my enthusiasm. This year, I’ve been sometimes disappointed, nonplussed by average books. But this month I laid hands on a gem.

Remember the New York Times’ essay I pointed out during summer when Gunter Grass’s “Peeling the Onion” was published in English? John Irving was defending his friend and celebrating a great book. The book has now been published in French and I got it from the library.

And boy, this is a great book indeed! I’m reading it as slowly as possible as to make the pleasure last longer. This is a terribly moving coming-of-age story, a war story that sometimes feels like Kurt Vonnegut, the personal memoirs of an old man looking back and trying to be truthful at last, but whose memory is always treacherous, a confession by a writer who is so used to take facts and transform them into fiction that he finds himself often caught in between.

Recently, in commenting Elizabeth Taylor’s “Miss A. and Miss M.”, I wondered how the aged narrator could look back at the stupid brat she was during childhood and be totally honest about what she felt at that time. Transpose it in even worse circumstances: how can an acclaimed writer and public figure look back at the stupid, conscienceless kid he was when he got drafted into the SS troops and be totally honest? He is being honest when he recognizes that he’s unsure of some crucial points, like when he removed his outrageous uniform during the army’s collapse: did he get rid on his own, thus recognizing that he knew he should be ashamed of it, or, as he says it’s more plausible, was he ordered to do so by a more clever lieutenant?

I’m still in the middle of it, and I will talk more about it later. But if you have a chance to get that book, don’t miss this wonderful opportunity! 

If you want to hear an interview of Gunter Grass and now deceased Norman Mailer at the New York Public Library earlier this year, just follow the link.

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4 thoughts on “The Year’s Culmination : What a Book !

  1. I remember the hub-bub when this book first came out and then I forgot about it. I have never read Grass before. This sounds good. Can you recommend which of his novels would be good for someone new o him?

  2. I have had my eye on this book, but like Stefanie, have not read him before. I wanted to start with something else and then read this one. Any suggestions?

  3. Stefanie, Verbivore, a classic place to start would be The Tin Drum, which really made him famous (or you can check the black and white movie). It’s in the Magical Realism and symbolic styles, so I had some trouble following it (but it’s entirely my fault, I wasn’t expecting it).

    Also, I would especially recommend the more recent Crabwalk (2002) where you can experience Grass’ back-and-forth narration about the sinking of a Nazi cruise ship with 9000 refugees on board. It is really good as past and present get intertwined.

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