Günter Grass is a novelist of international stature. He achieved his breakthrough with the publication of his first novel Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum 1961). Hailed by some critics as a stunning success and a promising sign of the rebirth of German letters after a devastating war, others condemned the novel as voyeuristic, obscene, and blasphemous. Despite the initial, fierce criticism, The Tin Drum has stood the test of time and is generally acknowledged as Grass’s masterpiece; the novel also served as the basis of the screenplay of an Oscar-winning film under the direction of Volker Schlöndorff. When Grass received the Nobel Prize in Literature 1999, The Tin Drum was cited as his major literary achievement.
In The Tin Drum as well as in subsequent works, Grass’s birthplace, the city of Danzig, plays a significant role. In fact, the import of Danzig for Grass’s work has been compared to that of Yoknapatawpha County for William Faulkner and Dublin for James Joyce. The irretrievable loss of Danzig as a consequence of World War II, when the former German city became the Polish city Gdask, has been a powerful stimulus for Grass’s literary imagination. Although especially in the 1970’s and 1980’s Grass had considerably extended the geographic range of his fiction, he returned to the topic of Danzig and Gdask after the felling of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989, and German reunification the following year.
In Crabwalk, two of the principal characters—one fictional and one real—hail from Danzig. The first of these characters, the memorable Tulla Pokriefke, appears in two works of fiction in Grass’s Danziger Trilogie, 1980 (Danzig Trilogy, 1987); the second, the old man, is a thinly disguised self-portrait of the author himself. The old man repeatedly professes both his keen interest as well as his competence in all matters related to Danzig, but he is too tired to tackle such a formidable subject as the history of the Wilhlem Gustloff.
Hence, the old man hires Paul Pokriefke, a mediocre journalist with an inclination to shirk his responsibility as both a storyteller and a father, who serves as his ghostwriter and whom he advises in...
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