Günter Grass: Swansea experts pay tribute to giant of European literature

Günter Grass, German Nobel literature prize winner and author of The Tin Drum, was one of the most important writers of the twentieth century, and one of the key architects of today’s Germany, said two Swansea experts on the writer as news was announced of his death, aged 87.

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Born in what was then Danzig - later Gdansk in modern-day Poland - Grass served in the German military in World War Two and published his breakthrough anti-Nazi novel, The Tin Drum, in 1959.

Later in life he became a vocal opponent of German reunification in 1990, and argued afterwards that it had been carried out too hastily.

Gunter GrassPicture: Gunter Grass

Julian Preece, an expert in Grass and professor of German from the department of languages, translation and communication, said:

“Günter Grass had a phenomenal impact on German, European and world literature and arguably on politics too. The Nobel Prize Committee cited his first novel The Tin Drum (1959) and that remains his most exciting and influential book, inspiring other big novels like Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981) and John Irving's The World according to Garp (1978).”

“But all Grass's novels were bestsellers in his native country, which is rare for works of serious literature. He was also a poet, a graphic artist, a sculptor, and a passionate cook.”

“Morally, spiritually, and socially, Germany lay in ruins in 1945, just like its bombed-out cities. As a teenager (he was 17 in 1945) he had been seduced by the siren calls of the Nazis and came to understand the criminal truth behind their regime as a result of listening to the Nuremberg Trials on the radio.”

Tin drum“As a writer Grass saw it as his mission to revivify the German language and as a public figure to rebuild the country as a democracy. He is one of the key architects of today's confident, tolerant and above all peaceful Germany, a tireless campaigner for human rights, against the arms trade, and for his beloved social democratic party”

Professor Preece is the author of The Life and Work of Günter Grass: Literature, History, Politics.   On Thursday 16 April,  Professor Preece, along with novelist Eugene Ruge, Professor Karen Leeder from Oxford and Times lead writer Oliver Kamm, will contribute to Radio 3's ‘Free Thinking’ programme, which will be devoted to a discussion of The Tin Drum. The programme will air at 10 pm.  (If you missed this programme, it is available to view here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05stw9v.)

Dr Katharina Hall, associate professor in the Department of Languages, Translation and Communication, added:

“With the death of Günter Grass, we have lost an exceptional German author and one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. Grass’s first three works in particular - The Tin Drum (1959), Cat and Mouse (1961) and Dog Years (1963) - continue to stand out for their uncompromising engagement with the Nazi past, pointing up the involvement of ordinary Germans in the regime and their post-war reluctance to acknowledge guilt for the Holocaust.”

“If you have never read any of Grass’s works, then start with The Tin Drum, the linguistically exuberant chronicle of a lower-middle-class Danzig family set against the turbulence of the National Socialist years. Its main protagonist, Oskar Matzerath, who stops growing at the age of three to avoid the constraints of the adult world, and who drums his memoirs for us from a psychiatric institution in 1953, remains one of the most arresting, outrageous and perceptive first-person narrators ever to have been created.”

“Grass will stand out in German literary and cultural history as a truly renaissance man - he was a prodigiously talented writer, poet, artist and sculptor who was active to the very end”.

“He was also constantly engaged with the political and social world around him: his novels focused on topics as diverse as the student movement, feminism, industrial pollution, the developing world and the effects of German reunification, and were accompanied by numerous essays, newspaper articles and interviews on these and other issues of the day.”

“Frequently controversial, but always willing to challenge the status quo, he will be enormously missed.”

Dr Hall is the author of Günter Grass's "Danzig-Quintet": Explorations In the Memory and History of the Nazi Era From "Die Blechtrommel" to" Im Krebsgang"

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