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GUENTER GRASS (1927-2015), Germany's most celebrated contemporary writer, attained worldwide renown with the publication of his novel The Tin Drum in 1959. A man of remarkable versatility, Grass was a poet, playwright, social critic, graphic artist, and novelist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999.


In January 1945, a Soviet sub in the Baltic Sea torpedoed a German passenger liner, the Wilhelm Gustloff, which was carrying both armed forces and refugees from Germany's eastern reaches. Some 9000 victims were left in the wake of what is said to be the worst maritime disaster in history. In this fictionalized account, German Nobel prize-winning author Grass creates a narrator who was born during the sinking. He grows to be a reporter and is now trying to make sense of the tragedy. In his meandering investigation, which he likens to a "crabwalk," the narrator must deal with both his obstreperous, obsessive mother and his estranged son, who, he discovers, is running a web site devoted to an endless dissection of the catastrophe. Because the various characters exist only to drive the story, this work hovers in that realm between fact and fiction. Grass brings the horror of the event alive, and the narrator's (presumably Grass's) ruminations shine a revealing light on German society, east and west, since the war. Still, the incident would likely have had greater impact had Hitler not unleashed so many atrocities at the same time. Recommended for serious fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

In a novel that has already attracted attention on both sides of the Atlantic, Nobelist Grass (Too Far Afield) employs a compelling vehicle for his latest excursion into Germany's tortured past. The Wilhelm Gustloff was a Nazi cruise ship refitted to rescue German refugees from the approaching Russian army in the waning days of WWII. The vessel was torpedoed by a Russian sub in the Baltic Sea, resulting in the deaths of 9,000 people and becoming the largest maritime disaster of the 20th century. Grass's unlikely narrator is second-rate journalist Paul Pokriefke, whose mother gave birth to him while the ship was collapsing. Pokriefke's irreverent narrative, couched in colloquial language, moves back and forth through the history of the incident, starting with the story of Gustloff, a Nazi functionary who was shot in 1936 by a Jewish medical student named David Frankfurter. Grass also weaves in details about the Russian sub commander, Aleksandr Marinesko, but the decidedly modern touch is the inclusion of Pokriefke's son, Konrad, an unbalanced loner who becomes deeply involved with the Web site dedicated to commemorating Gustloff's "martyrdom" and the vessel Hitler named after him. Though the elliptical narration and multiple subplots intentionally impede dramatic momentum, this is one of Grass's most accessible novels, and the closing chapters about the rescue of Pokriefke's mother are simply riveting. The final irony is the fate of Konrad, who, in search of revenge, goes after a man posing as Frankenfurter on the Web site. Grass has covered many of these issues in earlier novels, but this time he addresses the suffering of German civilians during and after the conflict. A writer who refuses to avert his eyes from unpleasant truths, he remains an eloquent explorer of his country's troubled 20th-century history. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.


In a mere 216 pages, German author Gunter Grass has delivered a blockbuster novel, shed a reputation for resting on 40-year-old laurels, reconciled left and right factions long at odds over the Nazi past and exposed a World War II tragedy virtually buried for half a century.--Los Angeles Times Grass's blockbuster ... refocuses attention on his nation's Nazi past and exposes a World War II tragedy buried for half a century.--New York Post By far the best Grass book in years.--Die Welt (Germany) The images of the sinking ship are more thrilling and astounding than the Titanic.--Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten (Germany)

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