Gunther Grass berated for scorning united Germany

Tony Barber reports on the controversy surrounding the distinguished no velist after his new book challenges the moral basis of his country's rebirth

The sour odour of bitchy controversy polluted the atmosphere of German letters this week as Gunter Grass, the nation's most famous living author, traded abuse with its most influential literary critics.

The cause of the row was Mr Grass's latest novel, Ein weites Feld (A Broad Field), which is to be officially published on Monday, and whose weighty themes, treated in 781 pages, are the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Germany's subsequent unification.

Mr Grass, 67, is well-known for his view that Germany lost the moral right to unification as a result of the horrors perpetrated in the Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War. However, the critics insist that they dislike his newest book not because of its political messages but because it is, in their view, poorly written and not very interesting.

This may not bother Mr Grass too much, because his novel's first print run of 100,000 has already sold out. "Those who write me off should take care that they don't get written off themselves," he growled in a television interview on Thursday.

The loudest dog snapping at Mr Grass's heels is Marcel Reich-Ranicki, 75, a critic so powerful that few German authors receive word that he has savaged their work without cursing his name. In a review published in the latest edition of the news magazine Der Spiegel, Mr Reich-Ranicki remarks acidly: "My dear Gunter Grass, I have to say that I find your novel to be a complete and utter failure."

However, either at the prompting of Der Spiegel or on his own initiative, the critic also allowed himself to be pictured on the front cover of the magazine tearing a copy of Mr Grass's novel in half. The image was possibly too strong for a country where the Nazis staged ritual burnings of books, and it was certainly too strong for Mr Grass.

"I do not wish to contribute to a magazine which depicts on its cover the horrific act of ripping up a book," said the author, after denying Der Spiegel permission to publish an interview with him about the novel.

A comprehensive thumbs-down for the book also appeared in Die Zeit, the extremely serious Hamburg weekly. Its reviewer, Iris Radisch, kicked her article off with the words: "Who is going to read this? Of their own free will and right to the end? This book is unreadable."

Mr Grass broke new ground for the German novel with his rumbustious early novels, Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), and Hundejahre (Dog Years), published in 1959 and 1963.

For some critics in Germany, however, his pronounced left-wing views have intruded too obviously into his later works.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam