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the Complete Review
the complete review - diary


From Germany to Germany

Günter Grass

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To purchase From Germany to Germany

Title: From Germany to Germany
Author: Günter Grass
Genre: Novel
Written: (2009) (Eng. 2012)
Length: 239 pages
Original in: German
Availability: From Germany to Germany - US
From Germany to Germany - UK
From Germany to Germany - Canada
From Germany to Germany - India
D'une Allemagne à l'autre - France
Unterwegs von Deutschland nach Deutschland - Deutschland
Da una Germania all'altra - Italia
De Alemania a Alemania - España
  • Diary 1990
  • German title: Unterwegs von Deutschland nach Deutschland
  • With illustrations by the author
  • Translated by Krishna Winston

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Our Assessment:

B- : some interesting odds and ends, but not enough depth

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 10/11/2012 .
Financial Times . 5/10/2012 Quentin Peel
FASz . 2/2/2009 Nils Minkmar
Harper's . 12/2012 Joshua Cohen
New Statesman . 4/10/2012 Hans Kundnani
The Spectator . 22/9/2012 Andrew Gimson
The Telegraph . 18/10/2012 Harry de Quetteville

  From the Reviews:
  • "Slower reunification might well have forestalled the steamrollering of the East German economy, as Mr Grass argued two decades ago. Yet at the time he offered little evidence, and came across mainly as a killjoy with nothing good to say about the East Germans’ self-liberation." - The Economist

  • "A brilliant novelist he may be but, unlike Nooteboom, Grass makes no attempt in his diary to explain or understand. Written as he rushes round both halves of Germany to book-readings, art shows, broadcasts and political gatherings, it is rather a series of loose ends -- a tale of an increasingly frustrated man who has decided reunification should not happen, and yet can do nothing to stop it." - Quentin Peel, Financial Times

  • "Die häuslichen Verhältnisse kann man als Leser schwer einschätzen, die politischen und historischen Urteile hingegen stehen ungeschützt in der Landschaft herum wie Baumaterialien zu einem Pleiteprojekt. Nahezu jede Prognose haut daneben. Nicht allein die Wahlergebnisse fallen dramatisch anders aus als von Grass vermutet, auch die Personen, die Chancen und Risiken schätzt er mit eindrucksvollen und immer großen Worten falsch ein." - Nils Minkmar, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

  • "Grass's Wanderjahr walks in the footsteps of German Romanticism, but the shoes are big, and cameras and mics lie in wait in the forest." - Joshua Cohen, Harper's

  • "In the greater part of the book, Grass pursues his other passions, for drawing, planting trees, cooking fish, planning novels, looking at frogs and spiders, gathering mushrooms and blackberries. Much of this is charming, an effect heightened by his drawings reproduced in the text. But it does not make for a great diary. Grass himself recognises that he is not a natural diarist: that he is not indiscreet enough." - Andrew Gimson, The Spectator

  • "Grass is happy to confess to a gloomy nature, but it is his sanctimoniousness that makes him tiresome. Worse, the diary itself is so laden with references to figures obscure to the non-German specialist that constant reference is required to the cast list of characters at the end. To work, a diary should not require constant flicking to the endnotes; the entries should establish a comprehensible and enjoyable momentum of their own." - Harry de Quetteville, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The diary kept by Günter Grass during the transitional year of 1990, when the Germanies were 'reunified', would seem to be a document(ation) that could be of considerable interest. From Germany to Germany apparently is that diary -- with bonus material that takes the reader through the first month of 1991 as well -- but it proves to be rather less revealing than one might have hoped. Covering thirteen months in less than 240 pages would seem a tall order anyway; given how busy Grass was, and how much was happening, From Germany to Germany comes across as particularly thin. Thirty pages of supporting material -- not footnotes (there are none), but rather reference-lists of everything from characters (Grass' family, persons mentioned) to newspapers and magazines mentioned and 'Grass's Principal Residences', as well as a Glossary -- suggest the constant need for further detail and explanations; as is, these endnotes provide some foundation for readers unfamiliar with German politics and culture, but it's a very cursory overview.
       Grass' diary begins and ends with his winter-stays in Portugal, where he potters around with his plants, reads The Satanic Verses (enthusiastic at first, he finds it gives him: "more and more trouble"), harvests squid ink, and works on the book that will occupy him for much of the year, The Call of the Toad. He's happy about his approach in the new novel, too: "Through writing, prefigure disaster. Knowing, with calm confidence, that it will end badly". The distance from Germany -- and the difficulty in getting information ("No newspapers in Portimão: the airline pilots are on strike. No chance to stay informed on events in the GDR") -- help keep him from obsessing too much about what's going on -- but he's pretty sure, from the get-go, that the inevitable outcome is not going to be a good one.
       The return to Germany thrusts him (or, depending on your point of view, has him interpose himself) squarely into the national debate. He's not sanguine:

It is inconceivable that this GDR, a country retarded in every sense, can simply be annexed without social tensions and explosions.
       Unfortunately, his diary is not a journal in which he elaborated on his concerns in any particularly meaningful way. Certainly, his explanations are on the record -- somewhere -- but two decades later readers may be less than enthusiastic about trying to hunt them down, and so are left only with nuggets such as:
A half-hour discussion that was broadcast in the evening. I warned once more against annexation in the guise of unification, and pointed to Auschwitz as an inescapable imperative.
       Not very helpful, to say the least.
       A card-carrying member of the SPD, Grass is also disheartened by his party's showings in the various elections: he gamely predicts the results for both the last election for the GDR Volkskammer (in March), and then for the Bundestag (the lower house of the German parliament) in November -- and, of course, the SPD results come in worse than he had predicted. Obviously, one of the issues he has is with the Helmut Kohl-led CDU/CSU-coalition in power and how they were proceeding with the annexation of reunification with East Germany.
       Occasionally his ruefulness can be touching:
     Am exhausted. From what ? From large-scale drawing ? But also from this new Germany taking shape, as if there were no other possibilities, civilized ones. Why does it always have to be so grand, so Wagnerian ?
       But for the most part the book is all bustle and activity, as he flies about, gives talks and meets folks. He tires of the Germany question, too -- "Germany ad nauseam, singly and times two" -- but since that actual debate is largely missing from his diary readers actually long for more. Instead, it's largely a litany of the everyday Grass offers: "Later Christoph Hein and his wife came by. We stayed up late." Here, as too often: not a word about what was said.
       There are deaths and births along the way, too, and some progress-reports on The Call of the Toad, but even here Grass offers little more than snippets. Some of this is interesting, such as the concise assessment of The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice- author Irmtraud Morgner:
After Johnson (or along with him), she is the only novelist of real quality to have found her material in the sediment of the GDR.
       But Grass refuses to go on at much length about much of anything. So From Germany to Germany offers little insight into his opposition to how East Germany was integrated into West Germany, and only gives a limited sense of Grass the man, too. For all its name-dropping -- Grass knows and meets what seems to be all of Germany's literati -- there isn't even much good gossip. The drawings are nice, and there are some decent odds and ends, but there's really not all that much to this book. (It also feels a bit behind its times, appearing now more than two decades after the fact (for once not (just) the fault of the US/UK publishers: this only came out a few years ago in German, too).)
       A small piece in a much, much bigger puzzle -- but interested readers would do better starting with The Call of the Toad, then turning to Grass' official pronouncements and publications from that time, and then waiting for the full biography.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 October 2012

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From Germany to Germany: Reviews: Günter Grass: Other books by Günter Grass under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Günter Grass was born in 1927. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1999.

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© 2012 the complete review

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