I didn’t know until I saw this morning’s New York Times that Günter Grass, one of my favorite authors, died yesterday at age 87. No cause was announced, and it appeared to be sudden. I’ve read exactly four of his books: The Tin Drum, Dog Years, Cat and Mouse, and The Flounder, in that order, and knew when I’d finished the first one that some day he’d get the Nobel Prize for Literature. He did—in 1999, and it was amply deserved.
I have little to say about the effect his books had on me: I have a weakness for magical realism, and though his books comprised more realism than magic, those novels, underpinned by the dark side of Nazism and the inimical relationship between Germany and Poland, made an indelible impression on me. In my mind I can still see the image of Walter and his cousin Tulla sitting on a wrecked submarine in the Baltic, lazing in the sun while chewing seagull droppings, and of Oskar, in the Tin Drum, wrapped in a coconut doormat and having sex with a nun who thought, from feeling the doormat, that it was Satan. I’ll just say that the first three books listed above, which constitute “The Danzig Trilogy,” are essential reading if you like fiction. Grass was certainly one of the greatest novelists of our time.