Like Salman Rushdie and John Irving, authors who have broken ranks to support him in his hour of outcry, Günter Grass is a fabulist. He is, with his flounder and snail and fizz powder and drumsticks, both Aesop and Marquez, with a touch of deSade. He wraps his heroes in fetish like a costumer with extra velveteen.
This is his gift to literature—an unwavering devotion to myth. His gift to cultural conscience is a frank application of those myths against the ills of society. For anyone to be shocked to learn that Grass was once less controlled in his embrace of ancient calls, fabulous and taboo, is to display an ignorance of his work or of human nature or both.
Betrayal, also, is an emotion of curious origin in this matter. I’m hesitant to comment on how Grass’s generation might feel about what could be a surprising unmasking, for their collective experience is not mine. I do find, however, among all the responses—journalistic, analytical, and vituperative—that those that ring truest are those that remind us that a small inner circle knew of Grass’s secret long ago. And did not raise a hue and cry.
But the silence! insist the critics, unwavering in their condemnation. And I wonder what a half-century of silence does to the coda of a scream. Call it an occupational perversion, but some of us consider the mortal and moral flaws seen in this affair as the crux of a great character—fictional or non. And yes, we are all the more eager to hear Grass break his loudmouth silence and show us the peeled onion.
more from Elizabeth Kiem at The Morning News here.