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Grass, Günter

Entry updated 15 April 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1927-2015) German artist, illustrator, sculptor and author, a significant creative and cultural voice in the long self-examination that the German world underwent (for cause) after World War Two; from the publication of his first novel, Die Blechtrommel (1959; trans Ralph Manheim as The Tin Drum 1962), he remained central to that interrogation, sometimes through the enraged and enraging mythopoesis of his best work, sometimes himself as the subject of savage scrutiny, most notably after his 2006 statement that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS from the end of 1944. It is generally felt – certainly outside Germany – that becoming a member of the SS at the age of seventeen under some duress was less challenging to his ultimate reputation than the fact that he had effectively concealed these circumstances while excoriating the "amnesia"of others.

Though Grass's use of sf material is peripheral, his work as a whole is clearly executed within the saddle of modern Fantastika, and cannot be understood therefore as primarily (or initially) mimetic; the metamorphic creatures who occupy the heartwood of his larger epics are specifically and literally creatures: their metaphorical largesse is a coat of many colours over their embodied beingness [for Beast Fable and Talking Animals here, and Matter and Myth of Origin below, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below].

The Danzig Trilogy in particular – comprising Die Blechtrommel (1959; trans Ralph Manheim as The Tin Drum 1962), the relatively minor Katz und Maus (1961; trans Ralph Manheim as Cat and Mouse 1963), and Hundejahre (1963; trans Ralph Manheim as Dog Years 1963) – can be seen as an anatomy, deeply Satirical but slyly triumphal, of the Matter of Germany. Oskar Matzerath, the protagonist of the first of these, is born self-aware and determines not to grow in stature while living through the German years of terror from 1924 to 1954, and rattles the world with his drum, which serves as a tocsin ostinato to beat official reality into shape (see Absurdist SF). The panoramic spasms of Dog Years are told to the tune of the crypto-animate scarecrows created by the half-Jewish Amsel, which are paraded in German uniforms throughout World War Two, while simultaneously hordes of Dogs, refusing like Oskar to surrender to the century, populate the scene. Nothing is forgiven.

Later novels repeat some of the effects of the seminal Danzig books, with lessening energy. The talkative Immortal fish who narrates Der Butt (1977; trans Ralph Manheim as The Flounder 1978) embodies in Magic Realist imagery a Myth of Origin, beginning with the Stone Age (see Prehistoric SF) and ending now. The Talking Animal at the heart of Die Rättin (1986; trans Ralph Manheim as The Rat 1987) similarly concentrates in his being the tale of the world, in this case via the intervening narrative of its human keeper, who "overhears" the rat's stories while he lies dreaming in a Spaceship orbiting a Ruined Earth, and interpolates his own, some of these directly connected to material from the earlier novels (as cited above). And the much shorter anti-epic Kopfgeburten oder Die Deutschen sterben aus (1980; trans Ralph Manheim as Headbirths or The Germans Are Dying Out 1982) contains prolepses (though not fully inhabited scenes) visualizing the Near Future of the German race.

It may seem that Grass's fleering ponderousness may sometimes take itself (and its author) more seriously than warrantable, but its very weight seems in the end unanswerable, as is his savage deprecation of Religion; he is an unavoidable voice of his century. Grass was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999. [JC]

Günter Wilhelm Grass

born Free City of Danzig [now Gdańsk, Poland]: 16 October 1927

died Lübeck Germany: 13 April 2015


Highly selected. It is exceedingly difficult, and not perhaps necessary, to establish priorities between UK and American translations of Grass, as UK and American editions, which tend to be simultaneously released, also share translator and settings; the double listing of publishers below, in alphabetical order, below reflects this; scans in Picture Gallery are clocked as to country of issue in Comment Fields below.


The Danzig Trilogy

  • Die Blechtrommel (Darmstadt, Germany: Hermann Luchterhand Verlag, 1959) [Danzig Trilogy: hb/]
    • The Tin Drum (New York: Pantheon Books/London: Secker and Warburg, 1962) [trans by Ralph Manheim of the above: Danzig Trilogy: hb/(US edition) Günter Grass]
    • The Tin Drum (New York: Harcourt Brace/London: Secker and Warburg, 2009) [new trans by Breon Mitchell of the above: hb/Günter Grass]
  • Katz und Maus (Darmstadt, Germany: Hermann Luchterhand Verlag, 1961) [Danzig Trilogy: hb/]
    • Cat and Mouse (New York: Harcourt Brace/London: Secker and Warburg, 1963) [trans by Ralph Manheim of the above: Danzig Trilogy: hb/(UK edition) Günter Grass]
  • Hundejahre (Darmstadt, Germany: Hermann Luchterhand Verlag, 1963) [Danzig Trilogy: hb/]
    • Dog Years (New York: Harcourt Brace/London: Secker and Warburg, 1963) [trans by Ralph Manheim of the above: Danzig Trilogy: hb/(US edition) Günter Grass]

individual titles

  • Der Butt (Darmstadt, Germany: Hermann Luchterhand Verlag, 1977) [hb/]
    • The Flounder (New York: Harcourt Brace/London: Secker and Warburg, 1978) [trans by Ralph Manheim of the above: hb/(UK edition) Günter Grass]
  • Kopfgeburten oder Die Deutschen sterben aus (Darmstadt, Germany: Hermann Luchterhand Verlag, 1980) [hb/]
  • Die Rättin (Darmstadt, Germany: Hermann Luchterhand Verlag, 1986) [hb/]
    • The Rat (New York: Harcourt Brace/London: Secker and Warburg, 1987) [trans by Ralph Manheim of the above: hb/Peter Dyer]


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