Peeling the Onion Paperback – Jun 2 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Rarely does an author reveal the sources of his characters, situations, images, and locales in as much detail as Mr. Grass does in this autobiography that concludes with the publication of The Tin Drum. I feel a need to reread all of the works to inject these perspectives.
Most writers will tell you that they use all of their life experiences as resources. Having seen how true that is of Mr. Grass, I realized for the first time that for writers to have truly original voices they need to have experiences that are far different than what most people do. Mr. Grass's war-disrupted youth certainly makes that clear.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is a shame that his revelation about the SS overshadowed the release of this book, as it is chock full of fabulous images and scenes of Germany pre-war, war, and immediately post-war. His tale of escape in wartime due to his inability to bicycle, or how he met up with a fellow soldier in the dead of night in the woods by singing a German nursery rhyme, are brilliantly rendered and unforgettable.
Grass enables us not just to see, but to feel, smell, touch, and breath life in Danzig in a cramped two-room flat, to dreams of glory in Hitler's army, to war, to capture, to incarceration at a POW camp, to life post-war amid the ruins of Germany. Has any writer written so lovingly, so powerfully, about food and smells as Grass? I'm still looking for a bottle of Dopplekorn. His description of his hunger at the POW camp, and how he learned of cooking while in the camp from a master chef, are some of the most powerful passages on food I have ever read.
Whether you love or detest Grass, you will find this book immensely satisfying.
It does take a bit of suspension of disbelief to imagine that a 17-year old Waffen SS soldier made it through terrible fighting at the end of the war without ever once firing a shot. I suppose it's possible, but seems highly unlikely to me. Other than that business I found the book a quick and very interesting read. A must for all fans of his work. I had no idea he started out as a sculptor and visual artist.
Seems like all the uproar when the book was released stems from a lot of people who've had an axe to grind with him for years. Admittedly, suddenly revealing he'd been a Waffen-SS volunteer after more than 50 years of silence and lambasting other's with "secrets" does reveal a heavy dose of hypocrisy. Doesn't change his incredible writing skill, though.