SHOW YOUR TONGUE by Gunter Grass


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Grass (most recently, On Writing and Politics 1967-1983; The Meeting at Telgte, 1981) spent six months in Calcutta, during 1986-87, escaping his disgust at German politics, recording his impressions of India in words and drawings. But, unfortunately, his text often reads like a memory jog, not very evocative to a reader who wasn't there. In the dominant Bengali culture of Calcutta, showing the tongue is a sign of shame; it's also part of the iconography of Kali, the Terrible Mother goddess, who "gives and takes," usually shown with protruding tongue and a necklace of human (male) skulls. The image of Kali reappears throughout Grass' notes, along with that of Subhas Chandra Bose, the Bengali nationalist leader who is still revered in spite of his alliance with Hitler and the Axis during WW II. Along with a stream of impressions of poverty and filth (which rarely come into sharp focus, though now and then Indian life appears familiar yet startlingly different--e.g., office workers on lunch break in a park toss potato chips to crows and rats), Grass records brief thoughts on his reading (galleys of a novel; Thomas Mann; Lichtenberg, an 18th-century German satirist) and his wife's (she favors the 19th-century Prussian emigrant Fontane). A concluding 18-page poem would have more power on its own; the ideas and images mostly appear in the preceding material. Over 200 pages of the author's illustrations (unseen except for four poorly reproduced charcoal sketches) may conceivably provide the real value of this book.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1989
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1989


NonfictionPEELING THE ONION by Gunter Grass
by Gunter Grass