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Crabwalk Hardcover – 7 Apr 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; 1st Edition edition (7 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571216501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571216505
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 13.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 494,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

With Crabwalk, a book that has enjoyed tremendous success in Germany, Günter Grass proves yet again that he is one of the most formidable figures in modern European literature, and anyone who believes that the glory days of The Tin Drum are behind him will find this remarkable novel quite as ambitious and penetrating as its great predecessor (even if, at 234 pages, it's considerably more concise than his earlier masterpiece). Political engagement has always been the force that motivates Grass's books, and the legacy of the past as it affects the present remains the fulcrum of all his work. Needless to say, like all great writers, his work is universal; you do not need to be German to appreciate such books as The Flounder and this new novel.

Here Grass tackles a subject that still causes unease among his countrymen: the problems of the German nation during World War Two. The central incident of the book is the sinking in 1945 (by a Soviet submarine) of the Willem Gustloff, a ship that had been converted into a refugee carrier. The loss of life in this sinking was immense, and this incident in the Baltic Sea remains the worst of all maritime disasters. The narrative is carried by Paul, a survivor of the sinking, who is now a journalist living in Berlin; his mother, Tulla, gave birth to him in a lifeboat on the doomed ship. As Paul attempts to place the disaster in the context of life in Germany today, his mother finds herself unable to shake off the crushing resonance of the incident. The generational theme is carried further by Paul's young son Konrad, who has been seduced by far-right elements in Germany which are attempting to rewrite history.

This is Grass at his considerable best: a powerful, significant theme is handled trenchantly, while the multi-generational problems of his characters are balanced against a lucid picture of the society in which they live. And despite the seriousness of his subject, Grass remains immensely readable. His books may be shorter these days, but their impact is no less forceful for that. --Barry Forshaw


'Crabwalk is a sharp, punchy and profound novel about pain and truth, both public and private.' -- Eileen Battersby, Irish Times, March 22, 2003

'For Grass, Germany's relationship with its history is an incurable disease. He provides a mastery and poignant diagnosis.' -- Peter Millar, The Times, April 5, 2003

'Grass does deliver a denoument providing a wholly unexpected twist to this sombre and memorable novel.' -- Andrew Crumey, Scotland on Sunday

'This book is full of telling human detail and neatly plotted with a sure sense of shock.' -- William Tanner, Hampstead and Highgate Express, April 4, 2003

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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ms. A. Kendal on 15 April 2003
Format: Hardcover
In early 1945, a cruise liner, the Wilhelm Gustloff, set sail from East Prussia, crammed with German refugees, a few wounded soldiers and trainee U-boat crews. Nearly 10,000 were on board.
On the night of 30 January, three Soviet torpedoes sunk the liner. Around 1,200 people were rescued. The rest - mostly women and young children - died in the freezing Baltic.
It was the worst maritime disaster in history. And yet, until recently, it was a story that remained largely taboo in post-war Germany. That changed however, when Nobel laureate Günter Grass took on the episode.
In Crabwalk, Grass takes up the story of Tulla Pokriefke, first seen in his earlier Cat and Mouse. Now a pregnant refugee on the ship, she gives birth to a son, Paul, in the midst of the disaster. His life is forever overshadowed by the circumstances of his birth, no matter how hard he tries to ignore his place in history. Then Paul’s own son, Konrad, develops an obsession with the disaster.
The ship had been built as a cruise liner for the nazis’ Strength Through Joy organisation and was named after a nazi ‘martyr’, who had been shot by a young Jewish student. Konrad, banned by his teachers from mentioning anything about the ship and the disaster at school, slides toward neo-nazism as he seeks to tell the story and seek some form of retribution for the deaths.
And so, with an awful sense of inevitability, history begins to repeat itself.
Grass’s premise is partly that, because acknowledgement of the suffering of ordinary Germans during the war was considered less important than breast-beating and guilt, the far right has been gifted an opportunity for propaganda.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 24 Aug. 2003
Format: Hardcover
Like the movement of a crab, this insightful and cautionary novel by Nobel Prize winner Gunter Grass "scuttl[es] backward to move forward," telling the story of the World War II sinking of the "Wilhelm Gustloff" on January 30, 1945, and its long-term effects on three generations of one German family. Ten thousand passengers, including thousands of women and elderly men, and four thousand infants and children, were aboard. Nearly all of them perished.
Moving, crab-like, back and forth, following the seemingly random order of speaker Paul Pokriefke's recollections, Grass brings his story and characters to life, expanding our view of the war and its aftermath, and showing how Germany's sociopolitical thinking has changed (or not changed) from the war to the present. Actively involving the reader in deciphering Paul's memories and imposing some order on them, Grass reveals the lives of the historical characters involved in the disaster, provides intense and moving descriptions of the disaster itself, and establishes the on-going saga of Paul and his family, all directly affected by the disaster.
The past and our willingness to learn from it, our changing definitions of "martyr" and "hero," the nature of punishment and atonement, and the impermanence of monuments and memorials are all major themes here, related both to the sinking of the Gustloff and to the events in the lives of the Pokriefke family. As is always the case with Grass, the themes are fully developed, the novel is fascinating for its insights, and it is often dramatic and moving. Grass's assessment of the current generation, as seen through his depiction of the speaker's son, is both startling and alarming in its implications. Mary Whipple
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kurt A. Johnson on 23 Feb. 2005
Format: Hardcover
In January 1945, the German cruise ship Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk by a Russian submarine in the Baltic Sea, and took some 9,000 refugees with her to their deaths. In the late 1990s, journalist Paul Pokriefke, born to a survivor while the great ship was still sinking, decides to write about the sinking, which killed more people than any other maritime disaster and yet is invisible in most history books. But Paul must crabwalk through the story, scuttling between the past and the present, to look at the tragedy of the past and the echoes that are still ringing through Germany today.
I must admit that this is one of the most fascinating, and disquieting, books that I have read in a long time. Part of the book is history, which is both informative and heartrending (5 stars). The other part of the book deals with Germany, and the way that World War II affected Germany and still affects it today. It shows how many people did and still deal with the memory of the war, some praising and some damning what happened, and all trying to come to grips with it. This other part is gripping and highly thought provoking (also 5 stars).
I wish I could say more about this book. It is a lot to digest, and is resistant to any quick and easy analysis. Overall I thought that this is a great book, and I highly recommend it to you.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 Jun. 2004
Format: Paperback
Crabwalk was the first great book I have read that was written in the 21st century.
Why Crabwalk? Here's a definition of "crab:" "to move sideways, diagonally, or obliquely, especially with short, abrupt bursts of speed." Crabwalk's structure is similar. Grass offers a clue in referring to "scuttling backward to move forward."
Paul Pokreife, a journeyman journalist, narrates several parallel tracks: his life, his mother's (Tulla), his son's (Konrad), his ex-wife's, the ship Wilhelm Gustloff, the Nazi Wilhelm Gustloff (and his monument and remains), Gustloff's assassin (David Frankfurter), the Soviet submarine commander who sunk the ship (Marinesko), and Konrad's online challenger (Wolfgang "David" Stremplin) and his parents. Sometimes Mr. Grass jumps sideways sharing several stories at that time. Other times he jumps forward or backward to a different time or story. . . and then goes sideways to other stories. It's like stream of consciousness narration except it's finished prose and dialogue. . . rather than thought fragments.
This structure establishes many connections between one person and another to show an interconnected fabric of German society and consciousness since 1933 in the context of a few events, a family and a few other characters. I felt like I had just absorbed the richness of War and Peace . . . except in a relatively short and simple book.
Crabwalk can be read at several levels of meaning. The most compelling story relates the terrible tragedy of the sinking of the German refugee ship, Wilhelm Gustoloff, in January 1945 on the frigid Baltic by a Soviet submarine. More than 1200 survived while most others (estimated between 6,600 and 10,600) died from explosions, equipment faults, rescue mistakes, freezing, drowning, or the icy waters.
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