My Century
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2000
I have had the opportunity to read this book in its original language, German. I have also lived in Germany most of my life, have my whole family there (yes, i am a FOB), and go back for at least three months every year. Well, you might ask yourself, why is he telling me this? I have a very good reason to do so. Grass has achieved something that I have yet seen to be done by any author. He has perfectly portrayed the mood among Germans during the 20th century. Ask any German of any age. He will tell you the same. If you know nothing about Germany: Read this book! If you think that you know a lot about Germany: Read this book! If you are from Germany or have lived there: Read this book! If you like to read: Read this book! To sum it up: Read this book, because it will broaden your horizon of knowledge.
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36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon January 2, 2000
I bought this book for all that seemed to be missing. This book won The Nobel Prize in 1999 for Literature, so what was missing? The book jacket had 3 quotes, all were about the author, and nothing was said about the book. I did not find this work anywhere on any bestseller list. I checked on the "Professional Reviews" and again they were odd. They seem to be of two types; explain nearly the entire book, or like the back of the jacket, they were confined to cryptic remarks about the Author, and on occasion the book itself. There is a huge distinction to be made between 100 "Chapters" and 100 "Stories". The inside jacket designates the enclosed as stories, and I would venture that anyone who reads the book would agree. Some stories share characters, but the brief tale told with shared characters is hardly sequential, this is also the exception to the stories rather than the rule. Historical knowledge of Germany or of the 20th Century is helpful but not required. The story about the USA landing on the moon while told from the perspective of a German, and within that narrator's time, does not require a degree in History. This book is tremendous. The 100 stories almost do read like chapters in spite of the fact they are not necessarily in chronological order. Short stories are notoriously difficult to write. The Author has created 100 of them, placed them within the confines of 100 years, and does so in a manner so clever and subtle, that by book's end, I felt that is what I read, a book, not a collection of short stories. This book is wonderful; it can be enjoyed as a historical narrative, or as brilliant piece of writing. The book is for anyone who likes to read. I just don't understand the lack of interest. It was noted that only 25,000 books were initially printed, that's virtually identical to Angela's Ashes, but a comparison of numbers of readers certainly seems to stop there, and that is truly a shame.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 1999
If you don't know German history, you probably won't enjoy this book. However if you do know the history of twentieth century Germany this book is worth the read. Some chapters are better than others. I guess it depends on one's interests. The chapter 1912 describes a young naval officer on a torpedo boot who describes the U-boots he sees. Is this officer Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz? It certainly is later in 1981. For myself, 1914-1918 were the best. They describe a conversation between Ernst Juenger and Erich Maria Remarque. Two famous German authors each with their own individual perspectives on the great war. Absolutely fascinating! Bottom line its an interesting book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon February 10, 2001
Do not take up this book while flopping into your favourite easy chair thinking you'll pass a pleasant afternoon with a prize-winning author. Gunter Grass has given us a prime example of why awarding him the Nobel Prize was so appropriate. Germany was the focal point of Western history throughout the last ten decades. This collection of observations might act as a text book for the period [although a supplemental reading list is recommended]. Grass' superb presentation of the people living in each era is an ideal starting point for numerous study topics. An outstanding collection of how people felt and reacted to events, woven tightly with their normal daily lives.
With narrators ranging from Kaiser Wilhelm II through working class ladies suffering the effects of runaway inflation to miners striving for better conditions, Grass presents a spectrum of Central European life. His ability in capturing the attitudes of the narrators, whether male, female, young, old, politically left, centre or right is elegant. There are no flaws in any of the portrayals. He's unrestrained in having each character speak honestly, fluently and fully. And those characters catch the flavour of each era in a faultless economy of words. With such a mob as this, meeting and hearing them a few at a time is best. You want to get to know them well, and reflect on their words and views.
Central to any account of 20th Century Germany are two global conflicts. Relating both world wars through the eyes of novelists and journalists is a master stroke. Only a writer of Grass' ability could convey the outlooks of literary giants Remarque and Junger, and do it through the mind of a modern woman. A war correspondent attends a gathering of journalists where in archetypal fashion, the old battles are re-fought, the old defeats analyzed, the old friends lightly mourned.
History, however, is not made of wars. It's ultimately the result of individuals making decisions about their lives. Grass' multi-faced account provides readers with deep insight into why Germany is so important in the world scene. He takes us into the minds of those who struggled for workers' rights. He shows us middle class men and women not quite attuned to the loss of feudal tradition with the exile of the Kaiser, facing a collapsed economy. American society, still trembling at the spectre of The Great Depression of the 1930s, never experienced spending $2 500 for an apron, or using paper money to close cracks in wallpaper. Nor was there a Western leader exhibiting the aura of redemption He exuded on becoming Chancellor. Even His opponents accepted the promised restoration of stability as a desired end. They couldn't forecast how it would be achieved. Grass takes us through the minds of those who clung to the promise until it was too late.
Grass' portrayal of modern times loses nothing in comparison to the more distant historical view given earlier. He's fully conversant with all the major issues arising at the end of the century. Americans who resent "foreign interference" in their affairs have tended to ignore the protests against Viet Nam taking place in Germany in the 1960s. The workers' unrest of the 1920s is replaced by the broader social and political upheavals of the 1970s. How many countries can match the rise of Germany's Green Party to a position of national power? Even Dolly, the cloned Scottish ewe, scampers into our view; Grass delves deeply into questions most of us comprehend poorly. Each vignette brings fresh surprises, delivered subtly but goading our need to reflect on what they describe and why he offered it to us.
This book has more levels of value than we can address here. Considering history is but a surface element in this book. Attitudes, their expression and derivation, is Grass' special talent. We need to read him for the conditions he lived through and presents for our reflection. Don't buy this book because Grass wrote it; don't buy it for its history of Germany and the 20th Century. Buy it to learn more about yourself.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2002
I began reading this book not knowing much of what it was about or where it would lead me. The brief yearly vignettes that Grass paints are just enough for the reader to gain a sense of time, place, and emotion. As a progressive work, the chapters unfold year by year to yield a personalized account - individual by individual - of what the twentieth century was like in Germany. Having studied the language and worked in Stuttgart, I was familiar with many of the references to cities, events, and jargon that the casual reader might miss. I would recommend the work as a quality introduction (albeit not a historical factbook or almanac) to Germany's recent history. In its historical fiction it reads like a novel - intricate, yet accessible. A worthwhile read from a highly talented writer.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2003
The lives of men and women always intersect with history; it seems a simple truism. Few people understand this as deeply and profoundly as German, and only a few among them understand it with the level of sophistication that Gunther Grass does. Through the narratives of eighty some odd characters each having at least one year to give a bit of their life story in relation to the history of the year that heads the chapter, both real and imagined people try to make sense of how their own lives intersected with history.
To be a German in the twentieth century was to be constantly aware of forces beyond personal control and to be caught up events, tragic or joyous, that had historical implications that were far reaching. The narrators are writers of note; academics; refugees from and in Germany, spies; children; academics; veterans of both World Wars in both of the post World War II states that comprised Germany; even the ghost of Grass's mother. Taken as a whole it is a group portrait of a country that has an infinitely complex and tragic relationship with the century that they were such horrifying, but also nuanced, part of shaping.
There was not a single year/chapter of this book that I did not find useful in its ability to shed light on how Germany and the Germans became what and who they are. Grass is an old man from a city that no longer exists-his native Danzig is now the thoroughly Polish city of Gdansk. His life was shaped by the colossal events of the Second World War and its partition after the war. For Grass, like all thoughtful Germans of his generation, there is no escaping questions about the meaning of being a German; most of the world had united to make sure that the Nazi regime that claimed to speak for them would wiped off the face of the Earth. This is no longer the case. The events that animated the experiences of Grass and his generation are slowly but surely, and permanently, leaving the memories of men and women and going to permanently reside in history. The realm of experience is dwelt upon here to make a record for the generations that were spared the experiences of the most deliberately violent century in human history.
This very large story is about the complexities and the sometimes idiocies of national identity. Grass's Germany is at once noble and savage, gracious and vicious, pensive and thoughtless, charitable and materialist, good and evil. Mostly they are all somewhere in between diametric opposites. It shall be as much at the extremes of human behavior that and attitudes that the Germans and Germany will be judged by future generations, and Grass knows it-the novels that made his career dealt with this fact dealt with it very, very, bluntly. The burden of nationality and history has grown lighter with each successive decade of Grass's career and he seems to consciously be doing now what he unconsciously did in his early work; writing for the ages. This is why his work bogs down.
"My Century" is the easiest of Grass's novels to read, but specifically because of the scope of its subject matter it is bigger than any that Grass has ever before tackled it seems to be a bit superficial. The overarching question that is posed to the reader-where are we going and where have we been-German or otherwise, is neither answered fully or left open enough to let the reader answer the question himself. In this respect, the portrait is something of a failure. But it would be wrong to cast it aside as irrelevant because of this. The failure to answer this question shows that Grass sees his people as suffering from a dose of multifaceted humanity that they are usually not acknowledged for having; at least on this side of the Atlantic. This humanity will serve the Germans who will only know the twentieth century from the history books well. Unlike Grass, they will be able to escape history. So may we all.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2000
What are the really important things to remember about the 20th Century? Is it the fact of the innovations in warfare? The developments in technology of all types? or is it something else?
Gunter Grass, in "My Century" suggests that the memory of the 20th Century must at least include myriads of lesser known folk who observed, reflected upon and responded to the moves and shifts of inventions, celebrations, disappointments, tragedies, the dawning of each new day.
The perspectives he offers, even when great personages meet, posture, and expound, is that those who count themselves 'Great' may be noticed only out of the corner of the eye by simple, ordinary people who, after the 'historic' moments still have to find food for the day, love and forgiveness for healing, and make their mark on the lives of those around them.
For all the value of knowing more about some of the events, characters, and institutions which were "Tin Drum" provided in end notes, one may let go of these things with post-modern abandon and simply listen to the voices with all their pain, despair, joy, and wonder.
Thank you, Gunter Grass, for once again reminding us of the presence and persistence of the common folk.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2000
Maybe it is because the boork requires you to be more than passingly familiar with names, dates and events in German History prior to the Nazi era, this book may be unsettling if not even close to unreadable to some. However, it is precisely for that reason that it causes those who do know the dates and times mentioned throughout the book to reflect on how they recall them.
Grass was not writing for the person who has only read about those times, but for those who lived those times. And, unlike some of his polemic writings of the past, he is not into pontificating as he is in charge of beginning the debates.
As one who recalls weeping at the collapse of the wall, I found the old officials watching the TV with the volume down a fascinating turn of expected emotion, For them, all of their lives was destroyed; instead of joy, fear...instead of belief, dismissal.
It takes some getting used to the switching of narration; a little disengaging the first chapter or two. Actually, it forced me to read the book more slowly, savoring the nuance as age, gender and even time frame shift about like sands on a riverbottom.
I have always admired the craft, style and intelligence of Gunthar Grass. This slim gem of a book only reconfirms by opinion.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2009
I was looking forward to this, but have to say that I was mildly disappointed. Grass's use of short vignettes for each year is interesting--reminds me of Studs Terkel in a way--but one has to have a good grasp of German history to get all of the allusions. The WWI sequence was disappointing--Grass's imaginary discussion between Juenger and Remarque relies more on shallow characterizations of both authors, including using quotes from their works as part of the narrative. I was hoping for something a little more meaty, though he gets credit for trying. The years up to WWII are very good, but once the war is over, the book loses its immediacy. This is most likely the fault of the year-by-year format he uses, but even so, I found the rest of the work to be OK. OK book if you are a Grass fan.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2000
Make no mistake: this is the century of Guenter Grass, and nobody else. A red-flag-waving socialist from way back, as well as a pacifist, he tells us how he sees this century. Unless you know German history in quite some detail, the book will be of no use to you. Interesting are the comments on Remarque and Juenger. Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" must be one of the most scathing indictments of World War I. Juenger, on the other hand, was always a gung-ho militarist who never had enough enemies to attack for the glory of the fatherland. It should also be said that Grass is not revered in his home country, but generally loathed. He did not even get good reviews when he received the Nobel Prize for the sum of his work. Yet he keeps trucking, putting out worthwhile literature and amazing gems like the "Tin Drum" and others.
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