Martin Walser was born the son of relatively poor innkeepers in the small but picturesque south German town of Wasserburg on Lake Constance, on March 24, 1927. He claims that he was shielded from the most blatant Nazism by his very Catholic family, but there were other kinds of hardship in his youth, especially after the death of his father in 1938. His schooling was often interrupted, particularly toward the end of the war when he was forced into civilian and then military service. He was captured by Allied troops but was released at war’s end. He then resumed his schooling, receiving his diploma in 1946. Walser studied initially at the Theological-Philosophical College in Regensburg; in 1948, he transferred to the University in Tübingen. He completed his studies in literature, history, and philosophy with an important Ph.D. dissertation on Franz Kafka in 1951. Both as a student and afterward, between 1949 and 1957, Walser worked for the South German Radio Network, and it was during that time that he began his career as an author, writing numerous radio plays.
After the critical success in 1957 of his first novel, Marriage in Philippsburg, Walser and his wife moved to Lake Constance, where they took up permanent residence, rearing four artistically talented daughters. Walser’s literary productivity has been prolific and steady, as has his production of significant work in the areas of literary and social criticism. Even though Walser “withdrew” to the idyllic shores of Lake Constance, he has remained a committed and frequently extremely controversial public figure since the days of his radio work. During the 1960’s, he spoke out frequently and consistently for social and political progress, moved steadily toward the political Left, and championed many of the causes associated with the student movement of those turbulent years. Walser’s political engagement, evident in his literary works only indirectly and never dogmatically, has never been undertaken for a specific political party, such as was the case with Günter Grass’s well-publicized engagement for the Social Democrats. For a time, some observers placed Walser close to the Communists; yet, even though his social and economic analyses are definitely informed by certain Marxist principles, Walser did not join, nor would he have been at home in, the small and rather dogmatic West German Communist Party. The “revolutionary” momentum of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s slowed and then halted, in West Germany as well as in the United States, and Walser’s direct...
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