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DOG YEARS by Günter Grass Kirkus Star


by Günter Grass

Pub Date: May 24th, 1965
ISBN: 015626112X

Dog Years is a meditation on modern history in the guise of a novel, a study of Germany before, during and after the Second World War, a tale of the interrelated fortunes of two friends, Walter Matern, Aryan, and Eddi Amsel, half-Jew. In its well-nigh stupefying length, in its almost ritual use of distortions, shifting perspectives, and completely unaccommodating, dispassionate weaving of minutiae (at once quaint, brutal, and poetic), and in the terrible geniality of its denunciatory spirit and in its disgusts, it is without doubt one of the most astonishing literary performances since Finnegans Wake. It is also, naturally, one of the most troubling. By comparison, The Tin Drum is a mere roller coaster ride through the Absurd. Grass' technique- a mingling of Beckett, Brecht, and his own half-solemn, half-winking naturalism- Juxtaposes the traditional order of character and situation with quasi-allegorical effects: e.g., the recurrent word play on Heideggerian concepts; the deadpan caricature of mass media, the cool nightmarish descriptions of industry; the quirky, staccato close-ups of front line fighting; above all, the underlying canine metaphor whereby a stud dog, involved in the adolescence of all the participants, fathers der Fuhrer's favorite hound, Pluto, later picked up by Natern on his hellish post-war Journey. Lupus est homo homini etc...Matern, of course, represents history's adjustable man: protector and tormentor of his "sheeny" friend, battered about the Left and Right ("I was red, put on brown, wore black, dyed myself red. Spit on me..."); Amsel, of course, is his alter ego. Dog Years is a product of the Cold War, in which absolutes boringly teeter on the brink, in which men (who have become sociologized "topics of discussion") scowl at each other or try to touch through a thick universal pane of glass. An important book which will receive an important press.