Peeling the Onion
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In this extraordinary memoir, Nobel Prize–winning author Günter Grass remembers his early life, from his boyhood in a cramped two-room apartment in Danzig through the late 1950s, when The Tin Drum was published.
During the Second World War, Grass volunteered for the submarine corps at the age of fifteen but was rejected; two years later, in 1944, he was instead drafted into the Waffen-SS. Taken prisoner by American forces as he was recovering from shrapnel wounds, he spent the final weeks of the war in an American POW camp. After the war, Grass resolved to become an artist and moved with his first wife to Paris, where he began to write the novel that would make him famous.
Full of the bravado of youth, the rubble of postwar Germany, the thrill of wild love affairs, and the exhilaration of Paris in the early fifties, Peeling the Onion—which caused great controversy when it was published in Germany—reveals Grass at his most intimate.
Old Moses and Buffalo Bill; he was Jonah in the whale; he wept with Shenandoah, the Indian chiefs daughter, that her river might return to its source. Long before pop art came on the scene, he had invented it in private, outlining his flat saturated colors in black. In the year The Tin Drum appeared and—as a cleaning woman had once predicted from my coffee grounds—I began to be marked with notoriety, I managed to get Dieter Weller-shoff, then an editor with Kiepenheuer, to slip Geldmachers O
stood in the way. It tripped me up. There was no getting around it. As if prescribed for me, it remained impenetrable: here was a lava flow that had barely cooled down, there a stretch of solid basalt, itself sitting on even older deposits. And layer upon layer had to be carried away, sorted, named. Words were needed. And a first sentence was still missing. THE time has come to close the drawers, turn the pictures to the wall, erase the tapes, and bury the snapshots, in which one after the other
of the reasons why, starting in the fifties, the desolate church interior was used as a set for Polish films—that and the light falling through the partly boarded windows were effects that attracted directors and pleased cameramen. On one of my last visits to Danzig, I found Saint John's different: no more stones, no more bones, large or small; the floor smooth, the windows glazed, the brick masonry renovated. I was giving a reading from Crabwalk, and the audience sat on chairs arranged in rows
parts were strewn around. Isn't that the boy who'd been tootling away on the harmonica? And there's that private, his lather not yet dry .. . The survivors were either crawling here and there or, like me, rooted to the spot. Some wailed, though not wounded. I made not a sound; I just stood there in my piss-soaked pants, staring at the innards of a boy I had been shooting the breeze with. Death seemed to have shrunk his round face. But I had already read everything I write here. I had read it
palm-reading for a visibly pregnant peasant woman who happily shared table and bed with the French "foreign worker" assigned her during the war. So pleased was the woman with my reading—I had prophesied that her husband would remain absent if not forever then at least for the foreseeable future—that she rewarded me with a hunk of smoked bacon in addition to my honorarium of a slab of sheeps-milk cheese. The man had been reported missing in action at the Eastern Front in 1943, but was still very