German novelist Gunter Grass, Nobel Prize winner, dies aged 87
Published 13/04/2015 | 13:29
Günter Grass, Germany’s Nobel Prize-winning author, has died at the age of 87.
Grass, who is best known for his first novel, The Tin Drum (1959), a seminal text in European magic realism, died on April 13, in the German city of Lübeck. He was a novelist, poet, essayist, dramatist, sculptor and graphic artist but his reputation was tarnished by his admission he had served in Adolf Hitler's Waffen SS.
The Tin Drum was a satire of those, like his parents, who were seduced by Nazi ideas and the novel was decried as blasphemous pornography and banned in numerous dictatorships.
A 1979 film adaptation of the novel, which was directed and co-written by Volker Schlöndorff, won the Palme d'Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Tin Drum and his subsequent works – the novella Cat and Mouse (1961) and the novel Dog Years (1963) – are popularly known as the Danzig trilogy.
The Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, praising him as a writer "whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history".
Grass was born in 1927 in Danzig-Langfuhr of Polish-German parents. After military service and captivity by American forces 1944-46, he worked as a farm labourer and miner and studied art in Düsseldorf and Berlin. He was a fan of the writings of Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe and John Dos Passos. "There is no one like Dos Passos – with his marvellous depictions of the masses – writing in America now," Grass said in 1980.
Grass designed his own book jackets, and his novels often contained his illustrations. As well as being awarded the Nobel Prize, he won the 1965 Georg Büchner Prize, the Carl von Ossietzky Medal (1977), and was a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
When Grass revealed his SS service in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper in 2006, in an interview ahead of his autobiography Peeling the Onion, there were calls for him to return his Nobel Prize.
"My silence through all these years is one of the reasons why I wrote this book," Grass said over the news that he had served in Hitler's SS. "It had to come out finally."
Grass later became a speechwriter for German chancellor Willy Brandt, a job he held for 10 years, and the writer spoke out against German reunification, which he compared to Hitler’s “annexation” of Austria.
He resigned in anger from the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1989 when it refused to join in a public reading from the work of Salman Rushdie, who was then facing a death threat following the condemnation of his novel The Satanic Verses by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.
In April 2012, he was banned from entering Israel following a controversy over a poem called What Must Be Said in which he accused Israel of plotting Iran's annihilation and threatening world peace.