Günter Grass

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

"Whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history"

The Tin Drum

Günter Grass, recently awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize for Literature, is a distinguished German novelist, lyricist, artist, and playwright. Writing from his experience in the Luftwaffe and as a prisoner of war, Grass deplores fascist militarism.

In its announcement of the award, the Swedish Academy praised the author's exploration of war on Danzig (now Gdansk), his home town. "Here he comes to grips with the enormous task of reviewing contemporary history by recalling the disavowed and the forgotten: the victims, losers and lies that people wanted to forget because they had once believed in them.

The anguish of war and the social and political problems that West Germany faced before reunification are the principal concerns in his novels. Die Blechtrommel (1959; tr. The Tin Drum, 1961), which brought him world renown, reveals his bizarre sense of humor.

His second novel, Hundejahre (1963; tr. Dog Years, 1965), is a monumental work that aroused considerable controversy.

Grass's early poems and plays are marked by a sensitivity for imagery and a tendency toward symbolism and ambiguity (see Selected Poems, tr. 1966; New Poems, tr. 1968; Four Plays, tr. 1967). His later works reflect a period of intense political activism. Student unrest in Berlin and the political “generation gap” are the themes of his novel Örtlich betäubt (1969; tr. Local Anaesthetic, 1970) and a play adaptation, Davor (1970; tr. Max, 1972).

Grass's reflections on his life in Berlin and his political activities are the basis for the novel Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke (1972, tr. From the Diary of a Snail, 1973).

His other works include a collection of speeches and open letters entitled Speak Out! (tr. 1969), and the novel Inmary praise (tr. 1974).

Bibliography: Michael Hollington, Günter Grass: The Writer in a Pluralist Society (1980); Richard H. Lawson, Günter Grass (1984), Patrick O'Neill, ed., Critical Essays on Günter Grass (1987).

Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition Copyright ©1993, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Inso Corporation. All rights reserved.

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