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Peeling the Onion Paperback – Jun 2 2008

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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99 by Wayne Gretzky 99 by Wayne Gretzky

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (June 2 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156035340
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156035347
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2.6 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 594 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #515,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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.

From Booklist

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.

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Format: Hardcover
Peeling the Onion is required reading for anyone who wants to have a deeper insight into Mr. Grass's remarkable books; desires to learn how a young Nazi turned into someone who wrote objectively through fiction about the Nazi era; is thrilled by eclectic influences to explore a progression from enjoying art cards and sketching into writing poetry and making sculptures into becoming the author of The Tin Drum; and is intrigued by the tricks that memory plays on us as we get older. Many will find themselves surprised by Mr. Grass's revelations about his youthful enthusiasm for the Nazis and volunteering for service that led to becoming a member of the Waffen SS. The book's writing style once again reveals a man whose incisive perspective allows him to stand among us while standing apart. The book's title and ongoing imagery relate to the way that exploring and reexploring memory help us come closer to the truth about ourselves and the world around us. But ultimately, there's no more onion left to peel. The imagery is illustrated by pencil drawings of peeled onions that are presumably by Mr. Grass's hand.

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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars 37 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressionistic and Cinematic, Superb Storytelling July 24 2007
By Todd and In Charge - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Whether true or imagined or somewhere in between, Grass has managed to write a story of his life that is compelling, haunting, thoughtful, reflective, impressionistic, and cinematic in breadth and scope. This is bravura memoirs, whether every detail is true or not, with passages of great descriptive power.

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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Grass yet Nov. 26 2007
By rudi - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book more than any of his other work. Probably because the prose is less turgid than most, and I enjoy historical accounts more than fiction in any case. He doesn't quite seem to "tell all", but he tells quite a bit and reveals the real-life basis for many of the characters and locations in his novels.

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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars July 14 2016
By Marcy Christmas - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
excellent autobiography
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gunter's Memoirs Sept. 3 2008
By Stephen Harlen - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A nice way of finding out who this author is and how he started on the road to the nobel prize . The early years in Danzig are fascinating and his experiences in war frightening in the extreme. Not being able to ride a bicycle probably saved his life and watching a huge Russian tank roll at him in the dark!!.... are some of the stories while in the Waffen SS which he had not previously disclosed. Much background leading up to the Tin Drum's genesis. Strongly recommended!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grass is not always green July 27 2007
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A work of contrition. An important contribution to our understanding of a great man, a great author and a tragic period in western history.