(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Herr Brauxel operates a mine in which no ore is processed, yet Brauxel’s employees report for work daily. During morning shifts, Brauxel creates a map of the Vistula, Poland’s longest river, which empties into the Baltic Sea in Gdansk. As he shapes the course of the river on his desk out of various objects, Brauxel relates the story of two young friends, Walter Matern and Eduard “Eddi” Amsel, growing up along the Vistula from the mid-1920’s to mid-1930’s.

Walter is Roman Catholic and the son of a local miller with clairvoyant powers gained from listening to flour mealworms. Eddi is half-Jewish and the son of a prosperous merchant. The boys have exchanged oaths as blood brothers, and Walter, known as the Grinder for his habit of grinding his teeth, acts as protector of pudgy Eddi. The two comrades often play with Walter’s black dog, Senta—a German shepherd who is also part wolf—alongside the river where Eddi salvages debris to build lifelike, incredibly effective scarecrows that he rents or sells to local farmers. He invests the money he earns to make even more elaborate and grotesque scarecrows.

Poet-playwright Harry Liebenau, son of a carpenter, writes letters to his cousin Ursula “Tulla” Pokriefke, but he never sends them. Harry’s missives relate his memories from the mid-1930’s until the end of World War II in 1945. Like the older boys, Harry also has a black dog, Harras, the offspring of Senta.

Harry’s letters detail ominous signs of change: Germany has absorbed Danzig, flags with swastikas have blossomed, and Hitler Youth groups are beginning to appear. Harras sires a pup named Prinz, who is presented as a gift to Adolf Hitler. Meanwhile, Walter, after a stint with the communists and a fling as an actor, joins...

(The entire section is 727 words.)


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Dog Years has three narrators who, together, tell the story of Germany from the mid-1920’s to the late 1940’s. Eddi Amsel, the first narrator, is also the protagonist of book 1. He grows up in Danzig after World War I. The area is not yet a part of Germany, although it has a predominant German population, with conflicting ethnic and religious groups. The Mennonites and the Catholics, for example, distrust one another, and the Jews are discriminated against. Eddi’s ancestry is somewhat clouded, but he is reputed to be half-Jewish. He is also an artist, a creator of amazingly lifelike scarecrows that disturb not only the birds but also his fellow Danzigers, who treat Eddi as an outcast.

Book 1 explores both the history of Danzig and the history of the families of Eddi and his friend Walter Matern. These are the “dog years,” in the sense that, threaded through this dynastic saga, is the story of the Matern family’s dogs. The dogs’ pedigree finally makes one of their breed a fit choice for the fuhrer, Adolf Hitler. The emphasis on dog breeding is an implicit comment on the growing German obsession with “Aryans.” Eddi’s friendship with Walter grows in spite of Eddi’s tainted blood, yet Walter cannot seem to help himself; his prejudice shows when he calls Eddi a “sheeny.” Eddi, himself, is not immune to racism and adopts the philosophy of a virulent anti-Semitic author who contends that Jews have no souls. In spite of his...

(The entire section is 547 words.)