From Germany to Germany by Gunter Grass

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From Germany to Germany by Gunter Grass

German Non fiction

Original title – Unterwegs von Deutschland nach Deutschland.

Translator – Krishna Winston

Source – Personal copy

Well I was late review my German reads for German lit month. I always try to include a Grass novel or as in this case a work of his non fiction . This came out a few years ago. But it was the clock turned back nature of this book Grass thoughts on 1990 a man who really didn’t like to keep a diary felt that the year after the wall fell down. The East German government fell in December 1989. Grass felt compelled to write his own thoughts on the events of the following year including the first free elections in east Germany.

I fear my planned trip to the GDR is going to take place during the let-down after the first successful revolutionary rush. But old power structures are proving durable, as might have been expected. The mass exodus continues. The opposition is weighed down with organizational problems. Maybe in June and august I’ll be sitting on Rugen or in the Elbe sandstone mountains writing about progress of the German-pPolish cemetery association.

We all remember those pictures of abandon Trabants all round Germany as people from the east came west.

The year follows not only the world of German politics Grass was an active voice in the spd the German socialist party. Happy as he is that Germany has become one again he worries that the rejoice could turn into something dark from the past of Germany that he remembers and that is nationalism. We also see him struggling to write his latest novel the call of the toad. A novel that at its heart is more about Grass a man than German he was born in Danzig a German in a part of the world that is Polish but not only is Grass German he is Kashubian by birth a nationality he says at some point is part way between being what is German and what is Polish so in some ways he still views German events through this part of his being.We see him meet many figures of the day like a trip to meet Vaclav Haval the czech writer like Grass himself a face of the times. Elsewhere we get glimpse into Grass personal life his wife Ute the time spent in the Algrave were we also see Grass talent as an artist with all his drawings in the books.

Finished Malte Laurids Brigge. The last third makes for disappointing reading: the precise observant and previously mentioned oddities drown in sentiment and in vagueness more typical of Rilke. The scenes set in Denmark are as strong as I remembered them: the loud dying of Old Brahe, or the mothers fear of needles.Remarkable how the book’s demand for a death of one’s own contrast with illness (cancer) of Ute’s mother, which will probably result in death.

I have a new translation of this Rilke work which I plan to review . It makes me think of how does a book change as you age ?

This didn’t come out to after Grass had died, I do wonder if he wanted it published maybe he left instructions after his death. I loved the personal and public mix of his life I mean at the time he was maybe one of the best known german figures and to have his views on this time one of the most significant in my life time. I was on germany a few years after this in 92 and 93 and remember the sense of hope. A sense I think which has now vanished some what. But I also remember a few people being worried as Grass was about the skeleton in the cupboard so to speak. Piece like this only give a small glimpse into a great writers life, he tackled the unification more in his later novel too far afield which follows two older German men around Berlin and is well worth reading .

Winston’s cover Grimm for a grim day

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The same day I got the Gunter Grass Proof I saw this in the same store he had everything half price so this early seventies selection of Grimm stories selected by Lore Segal and Maurice Sendak and Translated By Lore And illustrated by Maurice, of course sendak is best known for his book where the wild things are . His illustrations here are so in keeping with the Grimm tales.

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As you see with this one for The fisherman and his wife, which of course formed the kernel of the idea for the Gunter Grass novel the Flounder I reviewed last month on the blog.

Grass Proof ? It’s a cat and mouse chase

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Well here is a mystery I picked this up at the flea market today. It is a Gunter Grass paperback from 1963 but has no price and not the orginal cover so is it a proof ? It is similar to other proofs I get sent just missing the legal bits you have on them. It’s a mystery I have reviewed this on the blog but as I plan to reread tin drum next year may rereview this. But till then anyone know what this edition is ?

The Flounder by Günter Grass

The Flounder by Günter Grass

German Literature

Original title – Der Butt

Translator – Ralph Manheim

Source – personnel copy

I wish I was a fisherman
tumbling on the sea
far away from dry land
and its bitter memories
casting out my sweet line
with abandonment and love
no ceiling bearing down on me
save the starry sky above
with Light in my head
and you in my arms

I wish I was the brakeman
on a hurtling, fevered train
crashing headlong into the heartland
like a cannon in the rain
with the beating of the sleepers
and the burning of the coal
counting the towns flashing by
in a night that’s full of soul
with Light in my head
and you in my arms

Fisherman blues is one of those songs that evoke a bygone age .

I have long been a fan of Gunter grass and have reviewed him twice before her with Cat and Mouse , From the diary of a snail , I was sad to see his passing earlier this year as when I reviewed Siegfried Lenz earlier in the month Grass was one of three or four big German writers who were break out  and widely translated, he was gruppe 47 those writers trying to but a spin on the new Germany. He is best known for Tin drum, but as a writer this book from the mid 1970’s sure a change in style and direction for him.

The third beast

Iisebill put on more salt, before the impregnation there was a shoulder of mutton with string beans and pears, the season being early October. Still at table, still her mouth full, she asked “should we go to be right away, or do you want to tell me how the story began ?”

The opening lines of the book were pick as the best opening lines in German literature in a poll in Germany .

The book is set in nine chapters and follow the pregnancy of Iisbill the fisherman’s wife. But the book is historic tour of German folk history and women in general as their part in the world.. This is summed in little side tales of history food and women. The book follows The area of germany Grass was from that northern part just by and including at various times parts of Poland, Add to that a talking fish descriptions of food being made and we have one strange yet unique book.Hard to describe other than it has nine chapters and a couple await their child while we hear about the world they live in to that point from every angle in a way .

Delay

A pinch or redemer salt

another delay when my question- which

century are we playing mow ? – was answered

Kitchenwise: when the price of the pepper fell …

 

Nine times she sneezed over the bowl

where lay the hare giblets in their broth

she refused to remember

that I was he kitchen boy.

Darkly she gazed at the fly in the beer

and wanted( no more delay)

to be rid of me no matter what

I choose a poem that echoed somewhat the opening lines of placing salt on the food .

I said it marked a change in Grass style it was the first book he wrote that wasn’t influenced or involved the second world war as its main subject matter. You also see maybe for the first time his love of Grimm and the fairytales the story evolved out of the Grimm story The fisherman and his wife , he would later use Grimm to form the third part of his memoir a dictionary of his life an Homage to the one Grimm did in their day. I seemed to have described little of what is in the book that is because it one of those books that is more a collection of small almost one would say flash piece some a paragraph others a tens of pages ranging from Tales , memoir , history , poems , the story of Iisebill and her husband , the talking flounder and even  food described .The talking fish tells of his life from stone age years to the 70’s when he has to face a feminists panel. This is a book that has divide people for its view of women through history. I feel it was a book of its day so to speak and maybe looking back at it 40 years on it can seem out step with feminism, but that is not for me to say fully. For me it was a writer trying a new style of writing in this book he tried similar things later on in books like My century where he used a patchwork of hundred stories to describe the 20th century. For me it is sad that Grass is read less than he was twenty years ago I know writers come in and out fashion , but from what I gather his last work was a piece on refugees so maybe he was more up to date than it seemed. Grass was never afraid to speak his mind and campaigned for the german SPD party for many years in fact the idea for this book came when he was on the road with Willy Brandt. So as we see another great German chancellor Helmut schmidt died a book that was published in his time as chancellor seems a fitting book.This is my new favourite Grass till I start soon on his first two volumes of Memoir Peeling the onion and the box ready for the Grimm book when it gets translated.

have you a favourite Grass

 

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