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Peeling the Onion.


A Memoir

Holding back the tears.

Gunter Grass was only 15 when he first attempted to join the German military. The navy turned him down for submarine duty; soon enough, the Waffen-SS came calling. In Peeling the Onion, Grass revisits his younger self, a character filled with admiration for the Fuhrer, a burning desire to get away from home, and deep hungers: for sex, for adventure, and, above all, for art. The soldier became a sculptor, then a poet. Then he turned to fiction and produced the quintessential postwar German novel, The Tin Drum. Much of the biographical and philosophical foundation for his fiction is found herein, along with an imaginative rumination on guilt and morality.

Harcourt. 432 pages. $26. ISBN: 0151014779


NY Times Book Review CLASSIC

"It is the moral certainty, the holding himself accountable, that makes this memoir resonate so powerfully. First loves, first wife and everything that leads up to the writing of his first novel--they are all captured here--but, as always, Grass is best at taking himself to task." JOHN IRVING

San Diego Union-Tribune EXCELLENT

"What can hardly be exaggerated is the consistently brilliant use of detail, without which any such retrospective can only be arid and tedious. Grass' gift of rendering how things looked (and sounded, smelled, tasted, felt) makes for a rich and humanizing read." JAMES LEIGH

Seattle Times EXCELLENT

"The point of Peeling the Onion is to show how Grass' younger self puzzles him as much as it does any of his readers. ... His account of what he saw-- slaughter, corpses, burning cities--is as indelible as anything he has delivered in his fiction." MICHAEL UPCHURCH

Los Angeles Times GOOD

"Grass tries to coax his earlier self out of his past, and with this book, he is forging a memorial to that younger man. He is exposing him, expressing his shame and delivering his stories, in onion skins or amber nuggets." NATASHA RANDALL

New York Times GOOD

"Peeling the Onion is a verbally dazzling but often infuriating piece of work, bristling with harsh self-criticism, murky evasions and coy revisions of a past that, Mr. Grass steadfastly insists, presents itself to his novelist's imagination as a parade of images and stories asking to be manipulated. ... The constant muddling of fact and fiction grows wearisome." WILLIAM GRIMES

Boston Globe FAIR

"If drifting cloud cover is the most striking feature of the memoir--profoundly, in fact, it is the memoir--some of the story it tells shines through the gaps. ... The problem with Onion, though, is not that so many memories have gone into the fiction, but that in achieving reality there, they seem so ghostly here." RICHARD EDER


A standard plot summary of Peeling the Onion obscures the one detail--Grass's revelation that he had served in the Waffen-SS--that has made the 1999 Nobel laureate's memoir so controversial. This omission, considered unforgivable in Germany, is handled more sensitively in U.S. critical circles. Domestic reviewers show more impatience with Grass's shifting point of view, seeing the morphing pronouns and novelistic license as a means of dodging responsibility for his actions. Overall, though, reviewers agree that Onion is Grass's most powerful work since The Tin Drum, "unmistakably written by the same hand, and leavened by the same mordant humor, the same skillful irony that always elucidates the humanity of his characters" (San Diego Union-Tribune).


THE TIN DRUM (1959): Oskar Matzerath tells his life story--from his refusal to grow during his childhood in Danzig to his involvement with a troupe of dwarves during World War II--in a sanitorium in Dusseldorf, Germany.

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Title Annotation:biography
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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