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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than 'The Tin Drum', 29 Aug 2011
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This review is from: Dog Years (Paperback)
This is a truly great novel which warrants the effort and extra reading required to get under it's skin.It needs to be grappled with, given a little extra mental exertion in order to understand it's underlying themes, images and references. It's worth it!
It needs to be read at least twice!

It took me some time to get to grips with Herr Grass' rather dense poetic literary style; kind of like adjusting your focus of the whole in order to see the details. Once I tuned in, so to speak, I began to really enjoy this book and find it fascinating. It is a dense narrative recipe, steeped in German myth, legend, literature and history, with irony, sharp satire, allusion, allegory, symbolism, poetic imagery and a good dose of sardonic humour all cooked into a razor sharp historical critique(see link below);it is much akin and similar in style to The Tin Drum, and much said about that book also applies here, since the narratives interlink, tessellate and refer to one another, however, THIS BOOK IS FAR, FAR BETTER!
This is partly because it is written from different perspectives, which subverts The Tin Drum narrative into itself rather than the other way around,(Oskar Bronski/Matzerath is mentioned several times whilst scenes described in the Tin Drum are retold here from another's perspective) but also, more importantly, because this novel is the spine of the Danzig trilogy essentially expressing Grass' understanding, critique and interpretation of Germany's pre and post war history. This is it's structure which essentially underpins it's own narrative and that of the other two novels ( 'The Tin Drum' & 'Cat and mouse').

The central axis' which creates the underlying form (and indeed symmetry) of the novel is primarily the time line, de-marked by a lineage of pedigree black German Shepherds and the scarecrow creations of Eddi Amsel. Various relational narratives and character juxtapositions are written over this, creating depth, meaning etc...

The Dog line begins in Lithuanian and culminates in the Fuhrers pet dog. The main characters and narrators all own or have some connection with one of the dogs of this lineage,( "The dog stands central" to quote the book). The dog's presence is symbolic, in the narrative, of a demonic, evil influence, an image from Prussian folk lore. Meanwhile, the initial type of scarecrows are caricatures of rustic local people, in the next stage they portray Prussian historical and legendary figures and finally they become caricatures of Nazi German citizenship in general; mechanised automatons that can only march and salute. This time line reaches a wartime peak then carries on in real time whilst the narrative through various episodes turns back on itself and is carried along with the story of Walter Matern; effectively the (anti)hero of the book, as he returns from the war, ostensible seeking his old friend Eddi Amsel and revenge on various ex Nazis. We are taken on a search; for pre war, united Germany, a lost home and friendship, and an attempt to culturally pick up where things were historically left off; this proves to be impossible. Consequently we witness a regurgitated replicated repetition, through various literary devices, of certain pre-war events, scenes and motifs. Several events constitute turning points or the centre of the novel; Hitler's Dog, Prinz, elopes just before the capture of Berlin by the Allied Forces and the end of the war, and chooses Walter Matern as his new owner, two children are magically transformed by snow and violence and, interestingly, Oskar Matzerath (narrator of The Tin Drum) drums whilst walking between two girls, Jenny and Ursula 'Tulla' liebenau,a thing that no other character would dare to do, thus illustrating my earlier point about this books place in the Danzig Trilogy.

There are 2/3 important relationships, but central is the friendship between two boys; Eddi Amsel,a gifted catholic German Jew and Walter Matern an athletic German protestant and Left wing Activist. Both grow up kicking around on the river Vistula, which symbolically brings the flotsam and jetsam of history to their feet. Both are artists; Matern' an actor and Amsel, a sculpture/ fine artist. The latter makes scarecrow characatures of Germanic historical figures from the river debris. Neither is overtly Nazi; in fact Matern finds himself in repeated trouble for voicing his anti Nazi convictions and Amsel is forbidden because of his Jewish parentage yet both become, on the simple basis and pure fact that they ARE German,complicit in perpetuating or inheriting the Nazi legacy, which alludes to the moral anbiguity inherent in the human condition and the inadequecy of simplistic judgments of right and wrong when grappling towards an understanding of the period:maybe Grass is even saying that Nazi expression of fascism was inherent in Prussic culture? Ironically , the only anti-Semitic speech in the entire novel is spoken by Amsel and the only character to be publicly called to account for Nazism, and asked to answer for it is Matern.

another relationship is that between; Jenny Brunnies, a gypsy orphan and Eddi Amsel. Again both are artists, Jenny is a ballet dancer. Both become mythically, magical transformed by snow and Nazi anti-Semitic violence (or just plain bullying) into magical, thinner, more focused reinventions of themselves. In their new persona's both become popular cultural, artistic characters in Wartime and post War Germany. Amsel changes his name and becomes an elusive figure whose influence is non the less wide ranging, even ubiquitous.

There is also a juxtaposition between Jenny and the thoroughly unlikeable Ursula 'Tulla' Liebenau, a dog owner, both are the set against one another as objects of the narrators desire, the meaning of which has thus far eluded me.'Tulla' is a name given from Folklore and superstition, a nymph or demon.

The story of these characters is the story of Germany. Grass certainly suggests that the war was a peak, a watershed for German culture which essentially disintegrated afterwards and became a superficial alliance of left and right wing politics, essentially a copy of itself.The story of Germany then; it's national identity,is that it was essentially destroyed by the war, that the War was the summation, the peak of Prussic culture and that, the Nazi nihilism evident in the final days of war was a cultural death; the final word on the culture that preceded it.

This is a fascinating, extremely clever, complex, thought provoking novel.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly great book!, 7 Dec 2005
This review is from: Dog Years (Paperback)
This is one of the few truly great novels of the second half of the twentieth century. It is challenging, funny, horrific, and helps to create a picture of the whole vanished world of German-speaking Danzig.
An absolute must!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 13 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Dog Years (Paperback)
Excellent book. Excellent seller.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 6 Nov 2014
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This review is from: Dog Years (Paperback)
very good, very fast
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 22 Aug 2014
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B. Stocken - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dog Years (Paperback)
Excellent.
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Dog Years
Dog Years by Günter Grass (Paperback - 21 July 1997)
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