FROM GERMANY TO GERMANY. By Gunter Grass. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 264 pages. $24.
In 1990, the Nobel laureate for literature and prolific German writer Gunter Grass began a year-long journal to “keep trying to vault over the border that separates the two German states.”
Much concerned about the reunification of West and East Germany, he wrote of “the ugliness of this unification.” And of an “annexation” that is “indecent and undignified.”
During the year, he travels constantly throughout East and West Germany and beyond its borders, speaking at public debates, and to politicians, and writing for newspapers. He also manages to include book readings, art shows and other cultural activities.
At the same time, his agile mind is constantly on the move, recording his ideas for future books, mainly “The Call of the Toad,” while he works on drawings. Never one to dodge controversy, his observations on global problems are perceptive and sometimes provocative as he notes the “general obliviousness to climate change” and that “democracy takes practice.”
Many of his musings are mundane: raising cactus plants, planning and cooking meals. And these abrupt shifts, especially when he writes of his children from various marriages and liaisons, and his references to public figures unknown outside of Germany, are often annoying.
Indeed, looking over his diary near its conclusion, he writes, “Read with surprise the last fifty pages of this journal ... wondering whether it has the discipline for a manuscript.” Or could it be, to use Grass’ own words, “the hubris of writing!”
Reviewer Frances Monaco is a writer based in Charleston.