The Silence of Günter Grass

Neal Ascherson in the London Review of Books:

Grass161A great deal of the abuse heaped on Grass in the last few months has come from old enemies and rivals. Those, especially on the nationalist right, who had writhed under his satire and resented what they saw as his systematic undermining of German self-confidence, were enchanted. What a downfall to relish! He, too, the mighty novelist accepted by the outside world as Germany’s political conscience, had hidden his past. But there are many more Germans who had used those early novels – The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse, Dog Years – to form their own idea of their nation and its curse of amnesia. And they are hurt, as if Grass had let them down. He could have told the truth about those months, they lament, and nobody would have thought much the worse of him. In fact, to admit that he had been in the Waffen SS, however briefly, might have given even more resilience to his fiction and to his politics. What held him back, until it was too late?

More here.