Monday, April 15, 2013

Günter Grass' Peeling the Onion: the loudest narratives are the ones untold

Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass

READING Günter Grass's autobiography, Peeling the Onion, is like listening to my maternal great grandfather Otim's stories of the Japanese war. The prose is simple, the details sketchy, the tone apologetic and full of regrets, but brimming with wisdom and tempered drama that only old people can weave.

Only two chapters remain before I'm done with the book. I already have plans to reread it the moment I finish The Tin Drum, his most famous work, one he often alludes to in his memoir. I don't have a tangible copy of it yet, but I plan to skewer the bookstores within the week. I can always read it in epub format, but a book of that value must be read in ink and pulp. It deserves nothing less.

Günter Grass is considered by critics as Germany's most celebrated contemporary writer, having won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999. But that's not the reason I read him in the first place. To be honest I hadn't heard of him until two days ago, when I spotted Peeling the Onion (and a Vintage copy at that!) in mint condition worth P100.

I'm in the chapter when the war is over, he's already smoking, Germany is being rebuilt, a new currency is being used, and he's on his way to Berlin to settle down. Perhaps he'll get published there, find another lover, and travel to Paris again—I don't know for sure. I'm reserving the rest of the book for later. Timing is important, even in reading, as in most things that matter.

Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass

Overcome with emotions, I have a hard time putting his memoir down. I am lost in my reading. In some parts I'm saddened because he has abandoned his belief in a personal God with finality. Curiosity also gets hold of me, especially when he talks of his adolescent urges and liaisons, his ambitions, the books and paintings that have transformed him. But I'm depressed when he talks about the war, or when he chooses to skip some very important parts, like what happened to his family while he was away. He does write about it, albeit scantily.

Not once during the few years she had left did my mother ever so much as drop a hint or utter a word that might indicate what had gone on in the empty shop, in the basement, or in the apartment, nothing that might indicate where and how often she had been raped by Russian soldiers. It was not until after she died that I learned—and then only indirectly from my sister—that to protect her daughter she had offered himself to them. There were no words.

Sometimes the loudest narratives are the ones untold.



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