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In Memoriam – Günter Grass

Günter Grass, Germany’s best-known contemporary writer, poet, playwright, illustrator, sculptor and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature, has passed away at the age of 87.

Grass designed his own book jackets, and his novels often contained his illustrations. As well as being awarded the Nobel Prize, he won the 1965 Georg Büchner Prize, the Carl von Ossietzky Medal (1977), and was a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was a fan of the writings of Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe and John Dos Passos.- The Telegraph.

His first novel “The Tin Drum is the autobiography of thirty-year-old Oskar Matzerath, who has lived through the long Nazi nightmare and who, as the novel begins, is being held in a mental institution. Willfully stunting his growth at three feet for many years, wielding his tin drum and piercing scream as anarchistic weapons, he provides a profound yet hilarious perspective on both German history and the human condition in the modern world.”

The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) became the literary spokesman for the German generation that grew up in the Nazi era and survived the war. The Tin Drum was a “satire of those, like his parents, who were seduced by Nazi ideas and the novel was decried as blasphemous pornography and banned in numerous dictatorships.”

A film adaptation of the novel won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1979. The Tin Drum, the novella Cat and Mouse and the novel Dog Years are known as the Danzig trilogy.

In the autobiographical Peeling the Onion Mr. Grass revealed that at the age of 17 he had been drafted into the Waffen-SS in the last few months of the Second World War.

“During the Second World War, Grass volunteered for the submarine corps at the age of fifteen but was rejected; two years later, in 1944, he was instead drafted into the Waffen-SS. Taken prisoner by American forces as he was recovering from shrapnel wounds, he spent the final weeks of the war in an American POW camp. After the war, Grass resolved to become an artist and moved with his first wife to Paris, where he began to write the novel that would make him famous. Full of the bravado of youth, the rubble of postwar Germany, the thrill of wild love affairs, and the exhilaration of Paris in the early fifties, Peeling the Onion—which caused great controversy when it was published in Germany—reveals Grass at his most intimate.”

For more information about Günter Grass’s life read the obituary in The Guardian.

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