Im Krebsgang

Im KrebsgangG Nter Grass Has Been Wrestling With Germany S Past For Decades Now, But No Book Since The Tin Drum Has Generated As Much Excitement As This Engrossing Account Of The Sinking Of The Wilhelm Gustloff A German Cruise Ship Turned Refugee Carrier, It Was Attacked By A Soviet Submarine In January Some , People Went Down In The Baltic Sea, Making It The Deadliest Maritime Disaster Of All Time Born To An Unwed Mother On A Lifeboat The Night Of The Attack, Paul Pokriefke Is A Middle Aged Journalist Trying To Piece Together The Tragic Events While His Mother Sees Her Whole Existence In Terms Of That Calamitous Moment, Paul Wishes Their Life Could Have Been Less Touched By The Past For His Teenage Son, Who Dabbles In The Dark, Far Right Corners Of The Internet, The Gustloff Embodies The Denial Of Germany S Wartime Suffering Scuttling Backward To Move Forward, Crabwalk Is At Once A Captivating Tale Of A Tragedy At Sea And A Fearless Examination Of The Ways Different Generations Of Germans Now View Their PastWinner Of The Nobel Prize Grass s novel is about the deadliest marine disaster in history, but few have ever heard of it In January 1945, a cruise ship which had been reconfigured to transport German refugees, the Wilhelm Gustloff, was sunk by a Soviet submarine in icy Baltic waters More than 9,000 German refugees died, about 5,000 of them children 1,252 were rescued and survived By comparison, about 1,500 people died on the Titanic Germany apparently tried to keep the disaster under wraps so as not to demoralize the German populace.Grass creates a fictional survivor, a teenage girl who is 8 months pregnant and gives birth right after being rescued by another ship Her son Paul is the first person narrator of the novel He now has a teenage son, Konrad All three of them are obsessed with the story of the Gustloff Paul goes back and forth from the present to the past this is the crabwalk of the title to tell the stories of himself, his mother, and his son Meantime Konrad argues with another young man in a chatroom devoted to the disaster, making anti Semitic comments The namesake of the ship was a Swiss Nazi who had been assassinated by a Jew in 1936 While the history lesson is horrible, tragic, and fascinating, Grass s story and characters are unappealing The novel ends with an unpleasant twist which feels cheap and exploitative. Das h rt nicht auf Nie h rt das auf It never ends Thus ends the novella which would be rather funny, if the idea that ends in a nonfinito wasn t fascism Apart from meeting some the usual suspects from Grass early Danzig novels cast, and moving backwards to the core of German memory and or amnesia regarding the breakdown of national identity in 1945, this novella opens up a new perspective on old evil the world of the internet as a perfect place for hatred to spread and develop.A history lesson, a family saga, a murder in the tradition of Max Frisch Andorra, all combined in the circling, moving thought patterns of Grass inimitable prose style A truly great story, with a new persepctive on Tulla Pokriefke and her dramatic expierences on the Wilhelm Gustloff Like all rats, she made sure to leave the sinking ship But at the same time, she kept it in her mind forever, and passed it on to her grandchild, whose task it would be to repeat history while starting a new thread.It never ends It circles around its prey. R.I.P G nter Grass 1927 2015 Crabwalk, by G nter GrassG nter Grass Im Krebsgang appeared in 2002, a late work, but one of the best Grass ever wrote The incident at the center of this book is not well known I learned about it only recently in the pages of Max Hastings excellent Armageddon, The Battle for Germany, 1944 1945. In late January, 1945, the six million man Red Army had finally pushed the Axis armies into Germany, and looting, burning, rape and murder were the payback for years of the same committed by the Axis powers in the Soviet Union German civilians were desperate to escape to the relative safety of the region soon to be under the boot of the Allies On January 30 a former cruise ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, designed for a complement of 1,900, was packed with an estimated 8,000 10,000 persons civilians and some soldiers, many severely wounded , including some 4,500 children, and set course westward in the frigid Baltic Sea 18 degrees Celsius were measured an icebreaker had to open a passage in the Danzig Bay A Russian submarine happened upon the vessel and sank it with a loss of all but 949 known survivors according to Hastings 1,239 according to Grass , making this the greatest maritime disaster in history A week later the same submarine sank another such refugee ship, from which only 300 of a complement of 3,000 survived Grass was born in Danzig, a few miles from the port from which the Wilhelm Gustloff began its last voyage He may well have known some of the people who disappeared into the Baltic s deathly cold waters So, how did he choose to write about this horrific incident Complexly, with many layers The narrator is a mediocre journalist whose mother was aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff that fateful evening he was born that night in the ship that rescued her He dances around the central incident with fascinated horror and repulsion, approaching it, touching it, and then hastening away To avoid addressing it he tells the story of his entire family up till the present, as well as those of three outsiders the Nazi functionary after whom the ship was named, the Jewish student who assassinated him in Switzerland, and the captain of the Soviet submarine that fired three torpedoes into the overfilled ship He also tells the story of his research about the incident, including the close inspection of Nazi friendly websites , as well as the entire life story of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The narration is a complex simultaneous mixture of all of these and still elements, jumping about through time and space.Grass himself appears in the book as an old and tired writer who encourages the narrator to finally give expression to the suffering of the east Prussians, instead of leaving it up to the right wing revanchists Now and again, Grass gives him advice how to proceed.When the narrator finally brings himself to describe the actual sinking, he tries to remain as reserved, as factual as possible, relying on the reports of the survivors, of the complement of the single accompanying German ship, and of the sailors of the Russian submarine I won t say anything about it However, 1 4 of the book still remains, because as moving as the history surrounding and the story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff are, through the narration of his family s history and of the brown websites Grass has not merely allowed his narrator to avoid describing the traumatic incident but has been, in a completely non abstract manner, ruminating about mankind s relation to history what individuals don t know, what they think they know, what they are willing to modify or assume, what they are willing to do in the name of their understanding of history In this final quarter of the text another surprise emerges another, smaller tragedy occurs which further extends and deepens the book I won t spoil any surprises.Grass prose is neither flashy nor brilliant in this text though I enjoyed the Danziger dialect the narrator s mother always speaks The art of this book is manifested in the tightly woven mesh of so many distinct threads I m simply amazed at how much Grass could fit into a 216 page text without it seeming to be an overloaded information dump On the contrary, Im Krebsgang is a rich, harrowing and moving book It is in every respect the fourth volume of a Danzig tri tetralogy, the primary reason why Grass received the Nobel Prize His free spirited mother, Tulla Pokriefke, also made an appearance in Grass Katz und Maus Cat and Mouse , the second book in Grass Danzig Trilogy One of which supplied him with a most unpleasant surprise. I suspect that most people who read this book in English do so because it s by Grass, and know nothing of the Wilhelm Gustloff, or the polemic of which this book was part I m the other way round although I do like Grass, I was especially interested in the Gustloff Were it not for that, I might not have read this book If I had, I don t think I would have understood it, and it wouldn t have grabbed me the way it has I doubt if it s Grass s best as literature The characters, though well drawn, are unattractive and don t engage you The structure is complex and confusing Neither is it especially vivid despite the drama of its subject, there s nothing like the revolting and haunting horse s head scene in The Tin Drum The critical reception for the English translation was mixed the Observer, in particular, gave it a good kicking Yet despite all this, there is good reason to give it five stars.The Wilhelm Gustloff was a German cruise liner that spent much of the war tied up in Gotenhafen the then German name for the Polish port of Gdynia At 1pm on January 30 1945, as the Russians approached, she left for western Germany with some U boat personnel, 300 odd women naval auxiliaries and an unknown but huge number of German civilian refugees Just after 9pm, she was torpedoed, in extremely bad weather, by a Russian submarine off the coast of Pomerania again, now part of Poland She sank within the hour About 1,250 people were rescued The dead are now thought to have numbered about 9,400, of which half may have been children It was the worst maritime disaster in history to put it in perspective, the death toll on the Titanic was about 1,600 Moreover eyewitness accounts invest the sinking with a horror that reduces the Titanic to farce There are two or three books about the sinking in English, the best being Dobson, Payne and Miller s excellent The Cruelest Night In the main, however, few people outside Germany know much about the sinking But Germans themselves certainly do, and it has become a political football, with right wing revisionists claiming the disaster as a war crime Grass said that he wrote Crabwalk at least partly to wrest the Gustloff from the hands of the Right In fact, the book appeared during a period of debate in Germany after W.G Sebald s 1997 warning that Germans silence about their own suffering had given the Right free rein to use it for its own purposes Grass clearly agreed Briefly summarised, Crabwalk is the story of a fictional German teenager, Tulla, who gives birth to a boy on the ship that has rescued her from the sea After the war she settles in East Germany, and becomes an enthusiastic Stalinist But son Paul goes to the West, becomes a journalist and is pressed by his mother to write the story of the sinking, although he does not really wish to In the meantime, he marries and has a son of his own the marriage fails, and the son, Konrad, grows up to become an awkward, geeky teenager and starts a revisionist website dedicated to the Gustloff and the Nazi hero after whom it was named But a Jewish boy enters his chatroom, and starts to argue with him Who this Jewish boy really turns out to be, and how their dispute ends, shouldn t be revealed here But this book is a fascinating allegory for Grass s view of postwar German history The wartime generation Tulla appears to repent but does it or does it simply adopt new orthodoxies the next generation Paul is so appalled by their country s history that they barely speak of it, and so do little to help the third generation Konrad come to terms with it The book ends against a backdrop of skinhead hate crimes in the late 1990s, forging a link between fascists past and present If I were German, I m not sure how I would view this book If I liked Grass, I might see it as a shrewd warning of the moral time bombs that still confront my country If I didn t, I might see it as a contrived vehicle for Grass s own view of postwar Germany Either way, my view would likely be coloured by where I lay to the left or right I honestly don t know Let Germans decide But this book transcends its German setting and is important for the rest of us First, Grass shows us how an insidious revisionism can soften the past by raising matters that are less relevant than they appear, deflecting attention from the real questions In this case, the revisionist introduces the fact that the Gustloff rescued the crew of a British freighter before the war, as if that were relevant to the German ship s eventual fate it isn t There is also talk about the civilian victims but evasion of the fact that the ship was also evacuating a U boat depot Meanwhile it is too easy not to ask who started the conflict from which the civilians were fleeing But at the same time, Grass also hints that decades of German self flagellation after the war had brought about a reaction, causing young Konrad to ask whether the Nazis could really have been so evil Every country that has wielded power to any extent has some questions to answer, so none of this is about German history alone.Grass offers other, subtler insights The ship was named after a Nazi organizer called Wilhelm Gustloff who was murdered by a Jewish student in Switzerland in 1936 Gustloff himself appears originally to have identified with the left wing, populist, part of the Party The ship itself was built for the Nazi Strength through Joy movement, intended to provide ordinary people with leisure and fresh air Unusually for its era, it was single class Through Gustloff s story and the liner named after him, Grass reminds the reader that fascist movements often appeal to the masses by appearing to champion them against the rich This is still so anti immigrant parties in Europe can present themselves as defending the working man against a liberal elite.Last but not least, this book shows a shrewd appreciation of the Internet and the way it can disseminate ideas of every kind, untested and unmoderated Or, to put it another way, lying to lots of people just got a whole lot easier Grass clearly understood the new technology and its potential implications for politics, and for our understanding of the past Not bad for a man who was already in his late sixties when the Net started to spread in earnest, and was 75 by the time the book was published.By an odd chance I finished this book only a day or two before Grass s death was announced It was his last novel, and shouldn t be the one he is judged by The Gustloff story could support a much bigger and better book than this Moreover Crabwalk could have been better planned and better written The characters, too, could have involved you But maybe that s not the point Judge the book for what it is, rather than what it might have been, and you re still left with something quite remarkable a sharp, shrewd sideways look at history, by a man who, at 75, was still profoundly engaged with the past and future of his country If he wasn t a Nobel laureate, we d settle for that, wouldn t we

G nter Wilhelm Grass was a Nobel Prize winning German novelist, poet, playwright, illustrator, graphic artist, and sculptor.He was born in the Free City of Danzig now Gda sk, Poland Since 1945, he lived in West Germany, but in his fiction he frequently returned to the Danzig of his childhood He always identified himself as a Kashubian.He is best known for his first novel, The Tin Drum 1959

[BOOKS] ✫ Im Krebsgang By Günter Grass –
  • Paperback
  • 252 pages
  • Im Krebsgang
  • Günter Grass
  • English
  • 12 March 2019
  • 9780156029704

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