Jacobson on Grass

by Chris Bertram on September 12, 2006

In a “recent comments thread”:https://crookedtimber.org/2006/08/23/the-wealth-and-poverty-of-nations/ , I got into trouble for asserting that Christopher Hitchens had clearly never read Günter Grass’s ” _Crabwalk_ “:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0156029707/junius-20 since, in the course of “a polemic”:http://www.slate.com/id/2148094/nav/tap1/ that was nasty even by his standards, he described the book thus:

bq. suddenly there is Grass, publishing a large and cumbersome account of the sinking of a German civilian vessel in the Baltic in 1945 ….

By contrast, Dan Jacobson gives “an accurate and balanced account”:http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2006/09/writers_choice__1.html of the book (warning: plot spoilers), coupled with some reflections on Grass’s recent disclosures about his SS membership as part of the “Writer’s Choice” series at Geras’s site. (I wrote about _Crabwalk_ in “a post last year”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/02/27/crabwalk/ , before the recent revelations.)

Update: Ian Buruma, in the New Yorker, has “an interesting piece”:http://www.newyorker.com/critics/atlarge/articles/060918crat_atlarge on l’affaire Grass.



Kevin Donoghue 09.12.06 at 6:13 am

Your final link goes to Jacobson also.

[thanks – fixed! cb]


Aidan Kehoe 09.12.06 at 7:49 am

Throughout his career he had claimed that during the last months of Hitler’s war he had served as an unwilling conscript in an anti-aircraft battery; now, […]

That’s not quite exact; he’s always made it clear that he was an ardent Nazi as a young man.


rea 09.12.06 at 1:51 pm

“Throughout his career he had claimed that during the last months of Hitler’s war he had served as an unwilling conscript in an anti-aircraft battery . . .”

I think you’re confusing him with the Pope; an understandable mistake . . .


JR 09.12.06 at 6:41 pm

“More amusing than sensational is Grass’s recollection of a boy named Joseph, with whom he spent time in a prisoner-of-war camp. When asked whether this 17-year-old was in fact the man who became Pope Benedict XVI, Grass says: ‘He became my friend and we played dice together. I had managed to smuggle my dice shaker into the camp. (…) I wanted to be an artist and he was interested in a career in the church. He seemed a little shy, but he was a nice guy.’
Like Grass, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was in fact imprisoned at Germany’s Bad Aibling camp. Whether the Vatican will comment on Grass’s recollections remains to be seen.”



Thers 09.13.06 at 12:52 am

I’m wondering why Grass’s fiction seems not to have so far been ransacked for further “revelations.” The miltary career of the second fictional narrator of Dog Years, Harry Liebenau’s, seems to mirror Grass’s, for instance. Harry does not explicitly state that he was Waffen SS, but that could also perhaps be deduced by an account of what German armored divisions were still inducting 17-year-olds from Danzig at that time…? I wonder if Grass’s revelation hasn’t been lying out there in his fiction the entire time.

John Leonard claims that Grass’s Waffen SS membership was clear from his POW release papers. This secret, then, has been hiding in plain sight for decades.

Fascinating, captain.


astrongmaybe 09.13.06 at 6:39 am

Thanks for the link thers. Unusual to read such a good piece in such a generally shitty magazine.


vanya 09.13.06 at 12:40 pm

I had the same reaction immediately when reading Hitchen’s Slate piece – no-one who has read “Crabwalk”, whatever their opinion of the novel, would ever describe it as “large and cumbersome.” It is 224 pages long in softcover. I noticed Chris’ attacker in the other thread never really addressed the bizarre way Hitch characterized the novel. Either Hitch never read the book or was simply lying for effect assuming, unfortunately correctly, that most Slate readers would not have read “Crabwalk.” I thought it polite of Chris to make the first assumption, I would assume the latter to be the case.


a different chris 09.13.06 at 5:21 pm

I suspect Hitchens was just being a dick. I know that’s hard to believe.

Comments on this entry are closed.