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Book Title: Crabwalk|
ISBN 13: 9780571216529
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 847 KB
City - Country: No data
The author of the book: Günter Grass
Edition: Faber Faber
Date of issue: April 1st 2004
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Reader ratings: 3.3
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R.I.P. Günter Grass (1927-2015)
Crabwalk, by Günter Grass
Günter Grass' Im Krebsgang appeared in 2002, a late work, but one of the best Grass ever wrote.
The "incident" at the center of this book is not well known - I learned about it only recently in the pages of Max Hastings' excellent Armageddon, The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945. In late January, 1945, the six million man Red Army had finally pushed the Axis armies into Germany, and looting, burning, rape and murder were the payback for years of the same committed by the Axis powers in the Soviet Union. German civilians were desperate to escape to the relative safety of the region soon to be under the boot of the Allies. On January 30 a former cruise ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, designed for a complement of 1,900, was packed with an estimated 8,000-10,000 persons (civilians and some soldiers, many severely wounded), including some 4,500 children, and set course westward in the frigid Baltic Sea ( -18 degrees Celsius were measured; an icebreaker had to open a passage in the Danzig Bay). A Russian submarine happened upon the vessel and sank it with a loss of all but 949 known survivors (according to Hastings; 1,239 according to Grass), making this the greatest maritime disaster in history. (A week later the same submarine sank another such refugee ship, from which only 300 of a complement of 3,000 survived.)
Grass was born in Danzig, a few miles from the port from which the Wilhelm Gustloff began its last voyage. He may well have known some of the people who disappeared into the Baltic's deathly cold waters. So, how did he choose to write about this horrific incident?
Complexly, with many layers. The narrator is a mediocre journalist whose mother was aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff that fateful evening; he was born that night in the ship that rescued her. He dances around the central incident with fascinated horror and repulsion, approaching it, touching it, and then hastening away. To avoid addressing it he tells the story of his entire family(*) up till the present, as well as those of three outsiders: the Nazi functionary after whom the ship was named, the Jewish student who assassinated him in Switzerland, and the captain of the Soviet submarine that fired three torpedoes into the overfilled ship. He also tells the story of his research about the incident, including the close inspection of Nazi-friendly websites(**), as well as the entire life story of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The narration is a complex simultaneous mixture of all of these and still more elements, jumping about through time and space.
Grass himself appears in the book as an old and "tired" writer who encourages the narrator to finally give expression to the suffering of the east Prussians, instead of leaving it up to the right wing revanchists. Now and again, Grass gives him advice how to proceed.
When the narrator finally brings himself to describe the actual sinking, he tries to remain as reserved, as factual as possible, relying on the reports of the survivors, of the complement of the single accompanying German ship, and of the sailors of the Russian submarine. I won't say anything more about it.
However, 1/4 of the book still remains, because as moving as the history surrounding and the story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff are, through the narration of his family's history and of the brown websites Grass has not merely allowed his narrator to avoid describing the traumatic incident but has been, in a completely non-abstract manner, ruminating about mankind's relation to history - what individuals don't know, what they think they know, what they are willing to "modify" or assume, what they are willing to do in the name of their understanding of history. In this final quarter of the text another surprise emerges: another, smaller tragedy occurs which further extends and deepens the book. I won't spoil any surprises.
Grass' prose is neither flashy nor brilliant in this text (though I enjoyed the Danziger dialect the narrator's mother always speaks). The art of this book is manifested in the tightly woven mesh of so many distinct threads. I'm simply amazed at how much Grass could fit into a 216 page text without it seeming to be an overloaded information dump. On the contrary, Im Krebsgang is a rich, harrowing and moving book. It is in every respect the fourth volume of a Danzig tri tetralogy, the primary reason why Grass received the Nobel Prize.
(*) His free spirited mother, Tulla Pokriefke, also made an appearance in Grass' Katz und Maus (Cat and Mouse), the second book in Grass' Danzig Trilogy.
(**) One of which supplied him with a most unpleasant surprise.
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Read information about the authorGünter Wilhelm Grass was a Nobel Prize-winning German novelist, poet, playwright, illustrator, graphic artist, and sculptor.
He was born in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland). Since 1945, he lived in West Germany, but in his fiction he frequently returned to the Danzig of his childhood. He always identified himself as a Kashubian.
He is best known for his first novel, "The Tin Drum" (1959), a key text in European magic realism. His own name for this style was “broadened reality.” His other successes of the period were “Cat and Mouse” (1961) and “Dog Years” (1963). These novels, along with “The Tin Drum,” make up what Mr. Grass called his “Danzig Trilogy.”
Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig on 16 October 1927, to Willy Grass (1899-1979), a Protestant ethnic German, and Helene Grass (née Knoff, 1898-1954), a Roman Catholic of Kashubian-Polish origin. Grass was raised a Catholic. His parents had a grocery store with an attached apartment in Danzig-Langfuhr (now Gdańsk-Wrzeszcz). He has one sister, who was born in 1930.
Grass attended the Danzig Gymnasium Conradinum. He volunteered for submarine service with the Kriegsmarine "to get out of the confinement he felt as a teenager in his parents' house" which he considered - in a very negative way - civic Catholic lower middle class. In 1943 he became a Luftwaffenhelfer, then he was drafted into the Reichsarbeitsdienst, and in November 1944, shortly after his seventeenth birthday, into the Waffen-SS. The seventeen-year-old Grass saw combat with the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg from February 1945 until he was wounded on 20 April 1945 and sent to an American POW camp.
In 1946 and 1947 he worked in a mine and received a stonemason's education. For many years he studied sculpture and graphics, first at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, then at the Universität der Künste Berlin. He also worked as an author and traveled frequently. He married in 1954 and since 1960 lived in Berlin as well as part-time in Schleswig-Holstein. Divorced in 1978, he remarried in 1979. From 1983 to 1986 he held the presidency of the Berlin Akademie der Künste (Berlin Academy of Arts).
During the German unification process in 1989 he argued for separation of the two states, because he thought a unified Germany would resume its past aggression.
He moved to the northern German city of Lübeck in 1995.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. In 2006, Grass caused controversy with his disclosure of his Waffen-SS service during the final months of World War II, which he had kept a secret until publishing his memoir that year. He died of complications of lung infection on 13th of April, 2015 at a Lübeck hospital. He was 87.
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