This is Grass' follow-up novel to one of the greatest novels of all time: 'The Tin Drum', which is the first of 'The Danzig Trilogy' (of which this is the second). As such, it was likely to be slightly disappointing, and I'm afraid that - in that - it fails to disappoint.
That was perhaps a convoluted way of starting a review, but it was to illustrate that in order to enjoy Grass, you have to be the kind of reader who enjoys unpicking complicated sentences and descriptions. Grass has a beautiful way of helping us to visualise his world, though he is simple when he needs to be (such as when describing the layout of streets and houses). Indeed, the images of Danzig and 'the barge' will no doubt outlast my memories of plot and character, which are considerably weaker here than in 'The Tin Drum'.
The whole book feels understated and anticlimactic, and I can't tell whether this is due to the book itself or the overshadowing effect of its predecessor. It just kept nearly-taking-off.
The motivations of its characters are also sometimes a little difficult to grasp and therefore their actions can be a little baffling. This does, however, fit with the overriding theme of curiosity and hero-worship, but I never really understood what made its principal character, Mahlke, heroic, and the 'Nazi violence, war, and its aftermath' part of the back cover promise is entirely absent, where it was a pervasive undercurrent in 'The Tin Drum.'
This is a well written, enjoyable and interesting book. It's not one I'm likely to read again, but I'm still looking forward to reading 'Dog Years', which is the third in his 'trilogy'.