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Peeling the Onion


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The memoir of Germany's most celebrated contemporary writer

About the Author

Gunter Grass (1927-2015) was Germany's most celebrated post-war writer. He was a creative artist of remarkable versatility: novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, graphic artist. Grass's first novel, The Tin Drum, is widely regarded as one of the finest novels of the twentieth century, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.


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 2007 Reed Business Information.

Nobel laureate Grass, Germany's greatest living author and moralist, shocked just about everyone last year when he revealed that he once was a member of Hitler's elite Waffen-SS. The real surprise, however, was not that he served in the infamous Nazi unit but that he concealed his service for decades while harshly criticizing his countrypeople for failing to deal adequately with their Nazi past. In this English translation of his latest autobiographical memoir, Grass tries to explain why his story is more complicated than it sounds and discloses how he was finally driven by guilt to reveal this shameful episode in his past. He sketches his life since early childhood in Danzig (now Gda 'nsk, Poland) and through the late 1950s, deliberately mixing his real life and the characters from his fictions in a process that, not unlike the peeling of an onion, uncovers layers and produces tears. The memoir's beauty and poetic tone should not be overshadowed by the controversy surrounding its author's mea culpa. In any case, as critics acknowledge, his legacy will be his rescue of the national language from linguistic abuse by the Nazis. Highly recommended for all large collections.-Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

An exquisitely constructed narrative... Peeling the Onion is a genuine masterpiece * Independent on Sunday *
A memoir of rare literary beauty * New Yorker *
As a writer, his influence still looms large, and Peeling the Onion is a reminder why. It has that same imaginative accuracy that made The Tin Drum a bestseller * The Times *
An ingenious but treacherous text that glides constantly between past and present, first and third person, memory and imagination * Evening Standard *
This subtle and expertly written book is really a memoir about forgetting -- Sebastian Faulks * Sunday Times *

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