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Günter Grass Gone

from The New Yorker

The Greatness of Günter Grass

BY 

CREDITPHOTOGRAPH BY RENE BURRI / MAGNUM

In 1982, when I was in Hamburg for the publication of the German translation of “Midnight’s Children,” I was asked by my publishers if I would like to meet Günter Grass. Well, obviously I wanted to, and so I was driven out to the village of Wewelsfleth, outside Hamburg, where Grass then lived. He had two houses in the village; he wrote and lived in one and used the other as an art studio. After a certain amount of early fencing—I was expected, as the younger writer, to make my genuflections, which, as it happened, I was happy to perform—he decided, all of a sudden, that I was acceptable, led me to a cabinet in which he stored his collection of antique glasses, and asked me to choose one. Then he got out a bottle of schnapps, and by the bottom of the bottle we were friends. At some later point, we lurched over to the art studio, and I was enchanted by the objects I saw there, all of which I recognized from the novels: bronze eels, terracotta flounders, dry-point etchings of a boy beating a tin drum. I envied him his artistic gift almost more than I admired him for his literary genius. How wonderful, at the end of a day’s writing, to walk down the street and become a different sort of artist! He designed his own book covers, too: dogs, rats, toads moved from his pen onto his dust jackets.

After that meeting, every German journalist I met wanted to ask me what I thought of him, and when I said that I believed him to be one of the two or three greatest living writers in the world some of these journalists looked disappointed, and said, “Well, ‘The Tin Drum,’ yes, but wasn’t that a long time ago?” To which I tried to reply that if Grass had never written that novel, his other books were enough to earn him the accolades I was giving him, and the fact that he had written “The Tin Drum” as well placed him among the immortals. The skeptical journalists looked disappointed. They would have preferred something cattier, but I had nothing catty to say.

[ click to continue reading at The New Yorker ]

Posted on April 14, 2015 by Editor

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