HEADBIRTHS: Or, The Germans Are Dying Out by GÃœnter Grass
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HEADBIRTHS: Or, The Germans Are Dying Out

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Since Grass' massive The Flounder, he's been writing on his back, so to speak--first with a slight wedge of historical correspondence (The Meeting at Telgte) and now with an odd fact/fiction blend: the rough diary of a Grass trip through Asia combined with an equally ragged film scenario. ""Headbirths"" are what Grass calls the ideas that go into this film--and its main characters: a married German couple in their thirties, teachers Dortë and Harm Peters, who are in the throes of a ""Yes-to-baby No-to-baby"" crisis. In the story fragments here, the Peterses decide to once more postpone the decision--a wrenching one for them, being good democratic socialists both (should they bring a kid into this world?). Instead, they'll take a trip to India and Bali--on a tour (bought from the existentially-alert ""Sisyphus Tourist Bureau"") that is socially responsible: it provides them not only with palaces to see, but also slums; the tour leader is the cynical, faintly diabolical Dr. Wenthein (somewhat of a Grass alter-ego). And while Dortë promptly falls under the fertility spells of certain temples and goddesses, Harm is still balking, finding authenticity instead during a sudden attack of diarrhea on an Indian street: ""Childishly exuberant. . . he hops around in his shitty trousers. Now, at last, he belongs. Foreign no longer. . . . He squats by the roadside among the squatters."" The Harms, of course, are vintage twits--and Grass has his satirical sport with them. But unabashedly political himself, he also uses them as cautionary cartoons to point to Germany's falling birth rate and attendant cultural dangers, to the issues of nuclear power and rearmament, to the German elections of 1980. And thrown in, while he's at it, are: a tribute to the real-life poet Nicholas Born (who died young), some fantasy If-I-Were-Dictator reforms, and a few fairly well-aimed stabs at defining the German character. True, as Grass himself admits here, he's much lighter and flimsier when writing about the present instead of myth/history. But, though loosely stitched and intellectually offhand, this meditation/fantasy has a certain dash to it--and European talking-points galore.

Pub Date: March 10th, 1982
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich