Germany’s Nobel Prize-winning author, Gunter Grass, who was best known for his first novel, The Tin Drum (1959), a seminal text in European magic realism, died of a lung infection on April 13, in the German city of Lübeck. He was 87.
The Tin Drum was the first book of his Danzig Trilogy, which includes Cat and Mouse and Dog Years. All three deal with the rise of Nazism and with the war experience in the unique cultural setting of Danzig and the delta of the Vistula River. Dog Years, in many respects a sequel to The Tin Drum, portrays the area’s mixed ethnicities and complex historical background in lyrical prose that is highly evocative. 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. His works are frequently considered to have a left-wing political dimension, and Grass has been an active supporter of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999.
Grass was born in 1927 in Danzig-Langfuhr. At the age of just 17, he witnessed the horrors of World War II as a member of the Hitler Youth. He later joined the Waffen-SS, a Nazi special forces unit. Grass later became a speechwriter for German chancellor Willy Brandt and the writer spoke out against German reunification, which he compared to Hitler’s “annexation” of Austria.