Friday, March 8, 2019

Baltic Writers

Günter_Grass_(1986)_by_Erling_Mandelmann
I finished reading Günther Grass’s 2002 novel, Crabwalk, this week.  It’s translated from the German, Im Krebsgang,by Krishna Winston. Now, I might have a masters’ in 20thcentury German lit, but must admit, I’d never read any of his work. I was probably too obsessed with Heinrich Böll, one of my all-time favourite writers. What drew me to Grass now is Ruta Sepetys’s 2016 YA novel, From Salt to Sea. She includes a wonderful list of resource material at the end of her novel. 

Both books concern the sinking of the ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Both books cover territory that my own WIP touches on. Because the German title has the word Krebs in it, which means cancer, I'd missed the war connection. But the title refers to the wobbly, unsteady way a crab walks. And so it is, with the plot. 




I recommend reading both novels, end to end.  What makes Grass’s book so compelling is his ability to connect the dots, and then transfer the issues that led to the 1945 tragedy into a modern and relevant internet-based story. While Sepetys’s book zooms in on the tragedy of specific victims, Grass focuses on the bigger picture. He seems especially drawn to the man for whom the German luxury ship—used for German vacationers through the Kraft durch Freude —(or Strength through Joy program) was named. The man, Wilhelm Gustloff, was a prominent Nazi, who was shot in Davos, Switzerland by David Frankfurter, a Jew in 1936. Gustloff’s birthday was January 30, (1895) —fifty years to the day that the ship went down (in 1945), the same day the main character, Paul, was born, and the same date (in 1933) that Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, twelve years earlier.

Grass received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999. Another Baltic-based writer, Thomas Mann, received the same recognition back in 1929. Grass’s birth town was Danzig (now at #13 Lelewela in Gdansk) Poland while Thomas Mann had a summer home in Nida, Lithuania. More places to add to my Baltic itinerary.  Hope to share photos here on this blog.



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