Though, one could say, I’ve had plenty of time, I’ve never read a book by Gunter Grass, who passed away this week. I did once famously buy my friend, Dave, a copy of Grass’ best-known first novel, The Tin Drum, while on a walking tour of Chicago’s Wrigleyville. (Dave, in return, bought me a copy of Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote if I remember correctly.) Dave did not finish Grass’ book. It is quite a tome, and I think he got frustrated with the stubborn banging of that drum (I’m being literal here) by the small child main character asserting himself in a world in the process of going mad.
I’ve only seen the movie, which I recommend. As a piece of film I found it rather satisfying in its magical realistic depiction of the rise of Nazi Germany and all of those it gathered unto itself. Besides, it’s only 2 or 3 hours long. Not so with the book, though I do intend to read something by Gunter someday (I’ve still got time) who has left quite a legacy of grim moralization about the depravity that was the Nazis, revitalization of German literature with his 30 or so novels, plays, and poetry collections, and has been described as a “moral icon.” Not to mention, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999 and could claim to have influenced both John Irving and Salmon Rushdie. I will probably go for The Tin Drum and perhaps the other two books comprising his “Danzig Trilogy” for a start on the coming review of his body of work in light of his death and the significant 2006 revelation about how he voluntarily enlisted with Nazi Germany’s military near the middle of WWII. (That disclosure resulted in another pronouncement; “the end of a moral institution.”)
Now, perhaps, readers can begin to get perspective on Grass’ decision to enlist, his late-in-life-confession, and his body of work as an objective, finished entity that stands on its own. I don’t know if that’s really my personal aim in reading Grass. I just want to know something more about his writing. Besides, that “objective review” of Grass’ legacy may be more under the next-next generation’s ambit. And, as a man who just celebrated yet another birthday, aren’t they coming along so fast? I’m sure they’ll be up to the challenge.