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The German edition of this memoir by Nobel Prize–winning novelist Grass caused a stir with its revelations about the author's youthful service in the Waffen SS combat unit during the last months of WWII. According to his deliberately disjointed, impressionistic account of the war, Grass never fired a shot and spent his time fleeing both the Russians and German military police hunting for deserters, but he dutifully shoulders a joint responsibility for Nazi war crimes and a guilt and shame that gnaw, gnaw, ceaselessly. With less to repudiate in his postwar life as a budding sculptor and poet up to his 1959 breakthrough with The Tin Drum, he grows more engaged in his story as he recounts love affairs, bohemian idylls (he once played in an impromptu jazz quartet with Louis Armstrong) and his attempts to sift emotional wreckage from the past. Along the way, Grass notes people and events that he reworked into fictional characters and plots, and does quirky profiles of influential figures, including his penis and typewriter. In this otherwise very novelistic memoir, there's not much of a narrative arc, beyond the satisfaction of the author's perpetual hungers for food, sex and art, but Grass's powerfully evocative memories are spellbinding. (June)
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Illustrious German writer Grass' memoir was first published in his native country in 2006, amid an international storm of controversy. The problem wasn't so much his admission of being a member of the Waffen-SS—he was drafted as a teenager toward the end of the war, never fired a shot, and never saw a camp—but rather the 60 years of semi-hypocritical silence that followed. Grass suggests that as a young man his biggest failure was a relentless lack of firm beliefs: Egomaniac that he was, he saw and felt only himself. I would not have wanted to meet him, but had I met him, we would have fought. It is interesting nonetheless that even here Grass shies away from chronicling his political progression from an unquestioning Hitler Youth to the fervently moralistic novelist and outspoken social democrat that he would become. Rather, he simply plots his early life's turning points—most of which revolved around his three overriding hungers for food, sex, and art—while recollecting the accompanying details and imagery that would eventually be folded into his fantastical and Nobel-winning fiction. The memoir ends quietly with the publication of The Tin Drum in 1959 and perhaps functions best as a companion to be read alongside his oeuvre rather than as a portrait of the mind of a master at work, siphoning tumultuous times into modern masterpieces. Chipman, Ian
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.