Academic journal article German Quarterly

Politisch-Historisches in literarischer Form. Zu Günter Grass' Roman

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Politisch-Historisches in literarischer Form. Zu Günter Grass' Roman

Article excerpt

Labroisse, Gerd. Politisch-Historisches in literarischer Form. Zu Günter Grass' Roman Ein weites Feld. Berlin: Weidler, 2008. 310 pp. euro46.00 hardcover.

Readers of The German Quarterly may recall the sensational publication of Grass's Ein weites Feld in 1995: previewed as THE novel of the Wende and as a Berlin novel par excellence, the book aroused extensive debate and controversy following its appearance. Highly ambitious in conception, Grass's novel could be said to read the German unification of 1990 through the unification of 1871, achieving this through a diachronic doubling technique: in 1989 the main character, the seventy-year-old Theodor Wuttke, who is known as Fonty and works in the Theodor Fontane Archive, functions as a kind of reincarnation of Fontane, whom he reveres. The title of Grass's novel is itself a double entendre, alluding not only to Fontane's Effi Briest but to the impenetrable nature of modern German history. Fonty's sidekick Ludwig Hoftaller, dubbed the "eternal spy," continues the life of the 19th-century Tallhover, the title figure from the 1986 novel by Hans Joachim Schädlich. Both Fonty and Hoftaller are able to remember back to the first half of the 19th century, existing mentally in two eras at once. But Grass's postmodern play with levels of temporality and with the blurring of fiction and reality is counterbalanced by a wealth of empirical detail which reflects the author's exhaustive research into both historical moments he is treating. This hybrid blending of fantastic themes with ultrarealistic description aligns Ein weites Feld, for all its topicality, with Grass's earlier fiction, notably D/s Blechtrommel (1959).

The volume under review demonstrates Gerd Labroisse's intimate knowledge both of Ein weites Feld and of the literature on it. The first section, documenting media reactions to the novel prior to and upon the occasion of its publication, contains some of the more notorious assessments, such as the joint characterization of the novel by eminent critics Marcel Reich-Ranicki and Hellmuth Karasek, presented on the ZDF television program Literarisches Quartett just days before the book's release, as "ein 'schlechtes' und 'unmenschlich langweiliges Buch' ohne eine Spur handwerklichen Könnens" (qtd. 26). This program, together with the nearly simultaneous publication of Reich-Ranicki's lacerating views in Der Spiegel, doubtless did much to boost early sales oiEin weites Feld. …

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