Maya Jaggi from The Guardian has a really interesting long piece on Gunter Grass’s The Box, which comes out next week (both in the UK and U.S.). (And which sounds fantastic . . . Hopefully HMH will send a copy to us for review . . .):
The second volume of his fictive autobiography, The Box, is published by Harvill Secker next week, in an English translation by Krishna Winston. It forms part of a trilogy that took him seven years. Its third part, Grimms’ Words, which combines memoir with the story of the Grimms’ dictionary, came out in Germany in August.
While Peeling the Onion covered his youth – up to publication of The Tin Drum, aged 23 – The Box, he says, is the “familial part: how my children experienced this father, whose head was always floating in his fiction.”
Each volume has an “autobiographical bent” but a “fictional form”. He changed the names of the children he has with “four strong women” – four from his first marriage, two daughters with two women he lived with between his marriages, and two stepsons with Ute – and now has 17 grandchildren. “I’ve always been surrounded by children – never bothered by their noise.” Women, he chuckles, may have been more disturbing to his work, yet for 30 years he has lived with “an independent woman who accepts this form of loneliness I need, and who would actually mind if I stopped writing.”
The “box” is an Agfa camera with magical properties, which survived wartime firestorms to capture not only memories but things to come. Like the diminutive Oskar’s tin drum, it is a metaphor for his art. Grass sees it as a “fairytale to explain to children how fiction works in my mind. Our minds aren’t bound by a chronological corset. When thinking and dreaming, past, present and future are mixed up. That’s also possible for a writer.” His children witness how, later in life, he had to work through the stuff he’d experienced when he was “a boy in shorts”. Grass feels a renewed urgency to sift the rubble of what happened, “slowly, deliberately and in broad daylight”, as the generations who lived it dwindle. “It’s an endless story,” he says. “The inordinate crime of the ‘final solution’ still can’t be explained.”
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