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Peeling the Onion Hardcover – June 25, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The German edition of this memoir by Nobel Prize–winning novelist Grass caused a stir with its revelations about the author's youthful service in the Waffen SS combat unit during the last months of WWII. According to his deliberately disjointed, impressionistic account of the war, Grass never fired a shot and spent his time fleeing both the Russians and German military police hunting for deserters, but he dutifully shoulders a joint responsibility for Nazi war crimes and a guilt and shame that gnaw, gnaw, ceaselessly. With less to repudiate in his postwar life as a budding sculptor and poet up to his 1959 breakthrough with The Tin Drum, he grows more engaged in his story as he recounts love affairs, bohemian idylls (he once played in an impromptu jazz quartet with Louis Armstrong) and his attempts to sift emotional wreckage from the past. Along the way, Grass notes people and events that he reworked into fictional characters and plots, and does quirky profiles of influential figures, including his penis and typewriter. In this otherwise very novelistic memoir, there's not much of a narrative arc, beyond the satisfaction of the author's perpetual hungers for food, sex and art, but Grass's powerfully evocative memories are spellbinding. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

A standard plot summary of Peeling the Onion obscures the one detail-Grass's revelation that he had served in the Waffen-SS-that has made the 1999 Nobel laureate's memoir so controversial. This omission, considered unforgivable in Germany, is handled more sensitively in U.S. critical circles. Domestic reviewers show more impatience with Grass's shifting point of view, seeing the morphing pronouns and novelistic license as a means of dodging responsibility for his actions. Overall, though, reviewers agree that Onion is Grass's most powerful work since The Tin Drum, "unmistakably written by the same hand, and leavened by the same mordant humor, the same skillful irony that always elucidates the humanity of his characters" (San Diego Union-Tribune).
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (June 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151014779
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014774
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,495,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Thomas F. Dillingham VINE VOICE on June 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although much has been made of the 'revelation' that Gunter Grass served briefly in the Waffen SS (and more has been made of the disappointment many feel at the hypocrisy of his concealment of that fact during a lifetime of serious political and moral writing, satirizing the hypocrisy of others while concealing his own), I would argue that a large part of the point of Peeling the Onion is that there are far more serious and damnable crimes than either the trivial "service" or the self-serving concealment of it.

Grass is ferociously critical (and contemptuous) of his younger self; time and again he shows his behavior as essentially selfish, self-centered, egotistical, and especially blind to both the love and sacrifices of others on his behalf; his portrayal of his efforts to "free" himself from his family background is not unfamiliar in portraits of young artists, but he shows himself both blind to the needs and feelings of his parents and sister, as well as unable to recognize or acknowledge their efforts to help him. We might conclude that he is constructing a portrait of the kind of artist who is so enclosed in the world of his creative consciousness that he cannot allow time for "normal" human feelings or relationships. Again, that is a familiar characterization, but his narration of his mother's death, in particular, portrays his own behavior as almost inhumanly remote and unfeeling. And yet, at the same time, we have constant signals that the feelings are there, beneath the surface, later to emerge in his art--and the suggestion that the art is, after all, more important.
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Format: Hardcover
This biography chronicles the author's life, beginning with his awareness of himself, the intangible tie with which he is connected to Germany, to the collective awareness of guilt through the war, to his search of truth, and freedom. It is also an epic detailing what art, and writing meant to Gunter Grass, in a life of evolving insight. Echoing writers such as Claude Simon, his writing is like a tango between the past and the present; it sways between counciousness of abstract and realism. Through the streams of his thoughts, and words, it is as if the author is slowly peeling away the protective layers built against pride and pain. Despite the sting, Gunter Grass both reveals and savors the tenderness, and frailty of human nature- the creative and procreative genius.
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Format: Hardcover
Peeling the Onion is required reading for anyone who wants to have a deeper insight into Mr. Grass's remarkable books; desires to learn how a young Nazi turned into someone who wrote objectively through fiction about the Nazi era; is thrilled by eclectic influences to explore a progression from enjoying art cards and sketching into writing poetry and making sculptures into becoming the author of The Tin Drum; and is intrigued by the tricks that memory plays on us as we get older. Many will find themselves surprised by Mr. Grass's revelations about his youthful enthusiasm for the Nazis and volunteering for service that led to becoming a member of the Waffen SS. The book's writing style once again reveals a man whose incisive perspective allows him to stand among us while standing apart. The book's title and ongoing imagery relate to the way that exploring and reexploring memory help us come closer to the truth about ourselves and the world around us. But ultimately, there's no more onion left to peel. The imagery is illustrated by pencil drawings of peeled onions that are presumably by Mr. Grass's hand.

Rarely does an author reveal the sources of his characters, situations, images, and locales in as much detail as Mr. Grass does in this autobiography that concludes with the publication of The Tin Drum. I feel a need to reread all of the works to inject these perspectives.

Most writers will tell you that they use all of their life experiences as resources. Having seen how true that is of Mr. Grass, I realized for the first time that for writers to have truly original voices they need to have experiences that are far different than what most people do. Mr. Grass's war-disrupted youth certainly makes that clear.
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Format: Hardcover
"Peeling the Onion" is not a great book, but it is not a bad one either. One wishes for a more straightforward, clear narrative, still, there are powerful and moving passages within this muddled book.
Grass joined the SS and kept it from public knowledge for decades. Now he has made it public and has apologized. His life and most of his political positions and activism since the end of World War II, have made up for his youthful membership in the SS.
The great work is behind him: "The Tin Drum," "The Flounder," "From The Diary of a Snail" and other good if lesser novels. With "The Rat" clear evidence of his literary decadence appeared, yet "The Call of the Toad" was refreshingly good.
For anyone seriously interested in post World War II literature, "Peeling the Onion" is a must, if flawed, read. Better yet,go back and read "The Tin Drum," which is undeniably a masterpiece.
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