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200 × 130 × 14 mm
224 pages
35 illustrations
12 Feb 2018
Critical Lives
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Günter Grass Julian Preece

Günter Grass (1927–2015) was Germany’s foremost writer for more than half a century, and his books were and remain bestsellers across the world. The Tin Drum was made into an Oscar-winning film in 1979 and the memoir Peeling the Onion in 2006 astounded readers by revealing that Grass had been drafted into the most criminal component of the Nazi war machine, the Waffen ss, in the closing months of the Second World War. He wrote memorably about the student movement, feminism and German reunification, and was a key influence on magic realist authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Salman Rushdie, as well as the popular novelist John Irving. Grass redefined the role of ‘literary commitment’, campaigning as a citizen for the German Social Democrats and helping the anti-Nazi Willy Brandt become Chancellor in 1969.

Günter Grass is the first biographical study in English of this Nobel Prize-winning writer. Julian Preece introduces Grass’s key works and chronicles his interaction with major figures from literary and public life, including Chancellor Helmut Kohl and co-founder of the Red Army Faction Ulrike Meinhof, and places his fiction and public campaigning in the context of Cold War European politics and post-unification Germany.

‘an ambitious, brief study which charts the life together with reference to the work. We learn of Grass’s early training as a stonemason and sculptor, and how his adored mother Helene, a Catholic Cassubian, encouraged his reading. His father was Lutheran, and that mixed heritage, Preece contends, influenced the range of Grass’s fictional characters. Preece makes several references to his subject’s defining love of food and sex. But it is the wealth of political material, much of it involving Grass’s relationship with the former German chancellor Willy Brandt, Grass’s political ambitions and hunger for publicity, which dominate the narrative. Politics soon emerges as the major theme; that and Grass’s divided personality as a polemical artist with political aspirations . . . the general reader will find this quasi-conversational analysis a useful introduction to one of world literature’s most exciting writers.’ — TLS

‘Reaktion's Critical Lives series makes available for English readers high-quality biography and critical analysis of major figures . . . The Günter Grass contribution is intelligent, readable, and comprehensive – the resource nonspecialists will go to. One can escape without knowing any German – witness that in the text, the titles of Grass's works are given only in English. (The excellent bibliography, however, does have many German sources for the benefit of readers who wish to go deeper.) What is particularly useful in the Reaktion format is the quality of historical background and context.’ — Choice

‘This highly readable little book is a must for any student or lay reader who wishes to gain an overview of Günter Grass’s life and work, but it also contains gems for those more familiar with his texts and times . . . Particularly impressive across all eight chapters is Preece’s ability to keep the whole, complex oeuvre in view, as he moves lightly from one text to another without losing the overall thread of his argument in each chapter . . . this book will be on my prescribed reading list for years to come. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking to gain a clear sense of why they should read Günter Grass.’ — Journal of European Studies

‘Preece is able to survey Grass’s career in its entirety, introducing a meld of biography and compelling literary analysis to an English-language audience . . . Preece’s highly readable study allows lay readers and scholars alike to learn more about Grass’s position in a German and international context . . . Günter Grass is an engaging biography about the internationally best-known German author, which offers new archival findings and uncovers central links between the Nobel laureate and the literary world.’ — Gegenwartsliteratur ein germanistisches Jahrbuch

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Julian Preece is Professor of German Studies at Swansea University. His other books include The Life and Work of Günter Grass: Literature, History, Politics (2nd edn 2004) and Baader-Meinhof and the Novel: Narratives of the Nation, Fantasies of the Revolution (2012).

Prologue: Many-sided Man

1 From Danzig to Paris, 1927-59: Living The Tin Drum

2 Art and Violence in the Early Fiction

3 Public Uses of Fame: Willy Brandt and the SPD

4 Back to the Future, Forward to the Past

5 Crying Wolf in ‘Orwell’s Decade’?

6 Learning to Love the Berlin Republic: Too Far Afield

7 The New Nation Is Me

8 The Culmination of Project Self

Epilogue: Poetry and Death


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Photo Acknowledgements