Peeling the Onion: Book summary and reviews of Peeling the Onion by Gunter Grass

Peeling the Onion

by Gunter Grass

Peeling the Onion by Gunter Grass X
Peeling the Onion by Gunter Grass
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2007
    432 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

In this extraordinary memoir, Nobel Prize–winning author Gunter Grass remembers his early life, from his boyhood in a cramped two-room apartment in Danzig through the late 1950s, when The Tin Drum was published.

During the Second World War, Grass volunteered for the submarine corps at the age of fifteen but was rejected; two years later, in 1944, he was instead drafted into the Waffen-SS. Taken prisoner by American forces as he was recovering from shrapnel wounds, he spent the final weeks of the war in an American POW camp. After the war, Grass resolved to become an artist and moved with his first wife to Paris, where he began to write the novel that would make him famous.

Full of the bravado of youth, the rubble of postwar Germany, the thrill of wild love affairs, and the exhilaration of Paris in the early fifties, Peeling the Onion—which caused great controversy when it was published in Germany—reveals Grass at his most intimate.

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Reviews

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"In this otherwise very novelistic memoir, there's not much of a narrative arc, beyond the satisfaction of the author's perpetual "hungers" for food, sex and art, but Grass's powerfully evocative memories are spellbinding." - PW.

"If Grass had not been living with this wretched little skeleton in his closet, he might never have written a word. Like 99% of his compatriots, he might have just dusted himself off at war's end, said his 20 Hail Marys, and gone about joining the blithely ahistorical postwar boom. Instead, a haunted Grass cranked out a series of brutal novels about the war and childhood in occupied Poland." - The Guardian (UK).

"Grass likes to see himself as a good European. So did his former commander, Heinrich Himmler, who drew recruits for the Waffen-SS from all over the continent. Having dilated on his own 'foolish pride' in this genocidal elite, Grass remarks: 'Enough excuses.' But this entire book is one long excuse for a life that, we can now see, was hopelessly compromised by hypocrisy." - Daily Telegraph (UK).

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The German edition of Grass's memoir, published in 2006, caused a substantial stir as Grass, who has long positioned himself as the country's moral guide, rather casually revealed that he was a member of the Waffen SS during the last months of WWII - a fact he had kept hidden for more than 60 years. More about this story.

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