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Peeling the Onion has ratings and reviews. In this extraordinary memoir, Nobel Prize-winning author Gunter Grass remembers his early life, from his. Günter Grass’s memoir was published last summer in Germany to a chorus of controversy over the author’s service in the Waffen SS. But now. Peeling the Onion – Günter Grass – Books – Review JULY 8, When pestered with questions, memory is like an onion that wishes to be.

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Bertolt Brecht has a famous poem from”Germany, pale mother” Helma Sanders-Brahms later used the words as the title for a film.

The poem has an epigraph: Now, possibly threatened by its imminent disclosure – the relevant documents have surfaced lately in Grass’s Stasi file – or in an attempt to keep some sort of “authorial” control over it, he has published it, and impertinently required readers to pay for it, the only significant revelation in a long and miserably bad book.

This lifelong silence, and the manner of his pdeling it, have hurt Grass’s reputation in ways from which it will never recover, and which, depressingly, he seems not even to have understood.

It transpires that the year-old Grass – who had never previously admitted to being anything worse than hhe “Flakhelfer”, a conscripted civilian ack-ack gunner – volunteered for and briefly served with the elite unit called the Waffen SS.

When this was made public last summer, it was all over the papers and airwaves in Germany peeking weeks. Grass tried to limit the damage, with a long exclusive interview home-made al fresco lunch thrown in with representatives of the leading conservative newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and in a series of public events, and has generally gone on as though nothing has happened; but this is something that will not get better or go away.


The post-war “conscience of Germany” now has to suffer his name appearing disfigured with the double grrass of the SS. Peeling the Onion covers the years from towhen The Tin Drum was published; it is an autobiography of Grass’s youth.

I didn’t read it during the kerfuffle oninobut coming to it now, in both the inadequate original and in Michael Henry Heim’s always spirited English translation, things seem, if anything, even worse.

There is a kind of plain-spoken and rueful candour that is apparently entirely outside Grass’s gift; perhaps it can only be done by Anglo-Saxon writers. This is the thing that Grass, by equipment either a vrass fabulist or else a polemicist, cannot do: There are important categories such as “the poetry of fact”, even “the truth of fact”, that are simply inimical to him they are no good to a polemicist or a fabulist.

Confessions of a super Grass

The oddest, most dismaying thing about Peeling the Onion is that Grass should ever have attempted anything of the sort, so unwinning, unresonant, unstylish and unconvincing is the result. And that too makes one think this is not a voluntary exercise.

The revelation of the SS membership comes too late in the book. Not unnaturally, one turns the pages, impatient for it to come; and then, when it is gone, one feels too winded – too punched – to carry on through the rest of it.

Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass – Penguin Books New Zealand

I actually put it down for two weeks, unwilling to continue. It is both too heavily trailed and too much put off, too perfunctory and too dilatory, too defensive and too aggressive. They are two pages of failed writing that should be put in a textbook, and quarried for their multiple instances of bad faith.


The whole episode is announced by a break in style, with an end to Grassian gabbiness and a new, manly brusqueness.

Review: Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass | Books | The Guardian

Then the Waffen SS makes its first appearance, not as a principal, in the nominative, but in the genitive, “a drill ground of the Waffen SS”, just as “I” does not appear as “I” but as “the recruit with my name” a habitual and awful periphrastic tic throughout the book.

There is callous, hardbitten military jargon “a pocket like Demyansk forced open” followed by a dismaying, and dismayingly rare, statement of fact: As a plea, an noion, a confession, this is so bad as to be easily counter-productive. Still – aside from the gravity of its content noion it is really no worse than what comes before and after: The horrible suspicion arises that his deepest project here is the destruction of meaning. Not so much “peeling the onion” as “applying the varnish”.

We referred to Brecht’s poem “Germany, pale mother” and added that Fassbinder had used the words as the title for a film.