A very nice present from my cousin. It was a bit late for my birthday, but that didn’t matter. As she lives in Germany, I got the German version of the book, hardback even. I knew it was his latest book, yet didn’t realise until much later how new it was. The Dutch translation then hit the shelves of the bookshops. It made me remember again that I had to read the book. Grass is not someone who you leave unread waiting. He won a noble prize for literature even; Der Blechtrommel is high on the list of books I have to read someday (together with the brothers Karamazov and the Roald Dahl omnibus).
When we left for Austria in January this book was the first one to spring to mind when I had to pick a book to take in the bus. What better way to get back into a language than reading a good book. It wasn’t easy. A bus full of students doesn’t make it easy to concentrate on reading heavy literature in a foreign language. And as I dropped German in school (didn’t need more practice I considered arrogantly in those days) I haven’t read much German books in my life. But having worked in Austria for a few winters in a row means that I have no problems at all with the language. During the week in Austria skiing and socialising also meant that I didn’t progress much in the book. The bus journey home wasn’t of much help either. Hence when I got home I was not even halfway into a book that did not really tempt me to continue reading either. Too much it resembled a journalist writing an article that happen to take over 200 pages.
Still, I’m glad that I did continue reading, then the pieces fell together brilliantly in the second half of the book. The story of Wilhelm Gustloff is secondary to the ship named after him that was sunk by a Russian torpedo. Not until much later in the book we read how that story, that seemed the important part of the book is only an influence on the occurrences decades later. Grass manages to brilliantly string the four storylines together. The main character born while the ship was sinking, his son decades later, but also the story of the ship, the most important occurrence in the life of his mother and even the story of Gustloff self is woven in somehow. The last chapters I couldn’t put the book down anymore. Now I do understand why Grass gets praised so much. Based on the one book I read now, it seems fully deserved.