My Century is more than a political statement or an opportunity to bid for a Nobel Prize; it is an individual’s commentary on his life and times. Michael Pakenham of the Baltimore Sun (November 28, 1999) says,
“… Grass was selected, I believe, for his radical activism, not for his literary accomplishments. Also …an innovative novelist as well as a political force in modern Germany.”
Literary innovation aside I disagree with Pakenham’s sentiments. Grass expresses the heart of a people; he may not paint a picture that is lavish in style but he says what his family and community as well as his country is thinking and is therefore relevant, hence a Nobel Prize.
Grass portrays turn of the century Germany’s overarching events specifically war, then describes the effects of all of the mechanics of such a global catastrophe. Furthermore, apart from literary preference the authors choice of events lends itself to history and “instruction,” Grass said, “Recollecting means selecting,”
‘Grass said that he had wanted to write “history from below”, history from the point of view of those who are hardly ever referred to in history books: the victims of history, the little people—not state rulers, generals and business tycoons.’- Wolfgang Weber-
This is important for the underrepresented. It is important especially if it is more than rabblerousing, if the information is accurate it is good for direction, history and depending on style and tone, for literature.
Grass applies just as much effort to describing his personal circumstance as he does politics. One writer says of Grass, “It’s an immodest conceit, but it holds the book together. Soldiers, housewives, cops, journalists, grandparents, activists, a professor, a dirigible pilot, a businesswoman and ravers in the Berlin Love Parade all contribute their little share to a mosaic of the German nation in war and peace (Michael Scott Moore).”
All of these aspects of life are what politics are supposed to represent, but puzzlingly, people suffer because of political influence and contrarily, people are free-er in one way or another through the political process.
This is significant in regards to the accolades and criticism that Gunter Grass has received. Because the truth is that life is much more than a political process and “My Century” expresses that in its snippets of Germany’s turbulent turn of the century.
Pat Boran says, “History, according to Gunter Grass back in 1971, ‘is never-ending. We are always inside history, never outside it.”
Grasses book describes the events that led up to one of history’s most devastating events, Adolf Hitler’s mark on Germany and the rest of the world.
Grass sets Hitler’s “nomination” into the Chancellor post by artistically painting a picture of the machinations of Germany and the neighboring countries political interactions, which led up to the 2nd world war. Boran illustrates this via the Tiananmen Square incident,
“The butchery that took place in Tiananmen Square, for instance, provides the material for the opening story of 1900, and not June 1988 as many will expect… our soldier narrator sends a chopped-off pigtail home as a gift for his fiancée seems barbaric. That the rebellion itself had more than a little to do with the trade in opium, supported by the British, the same German solider only mentions in passing. In passing is, in fact, how history is glimpsed, and the people on the ground are often unaware of how it will all appear in retrospect. The man who as a small boy attends a turbulent workers’ rally remembers sitting on his father’s shoulders and peering with excitement more than he remembers how general strikes came to be ‘a potential weapon for the proletarian masses’; and ‘Big Bertha’, the huge gun used to pound Allied positions in the First World War, is similarly an embarrassment to the young woman who worked in the Krupps factory and after whom it was jokingly named.”
I am reminded of how foreign Grasses language was to me and that I did not understand him. Now I can say that he has managed to express the emotions of those who have been under pressure of war and its effects on individual lives. In closing, a Nobel Prize for this work is appropriate and well deserved by Gunter Grass.