Last words and images from the Nobel Prize–winning writer.
In this posthumous collection, Grass (1927-2015) offers brief, gentle, intimate meditations illustrated by his own soft pencil drawings. Some pieces look back with nostalgia and even surprise at the author’s past. Discovering more than 200 drawings and watercolors that he made when he was an art student, he feels “amazed” and searches his memory “trying to find the young man in his early twenties” who was passionate about craft. He recalls his start as a writer, “setting down words early on,” excited when he received an Olivetti typewriter, “sleek and elegant in form, as if Leonardo da Vinci had invented the typewriter on the side.” Even in the age of computers, Grass remained true to his Olivetti, stocking up on ribbons that became increasingly scarce. In many pieces, the author considers the losses that come with old age: his senses of taste and smell, the pleasures of a woman’s breasts, and teeth, reduced to only one, “single, who wants to show how stalwart he is.” A poem entitled “Self Portrait” begins, “Old codger, chewer of gums / fit for nothing but spooned pap.” Lost, too, was the ability to travel, and Grass was reduced to tracing a finger on a map. “It’s hard to let go,” he writes. “Some things are easier / others give rise to howls of complaint.” He complains, for example, about a world in which some favorite foods are considered offensive—e.g., pig’s kidneys, breaded brains, beef liver. His children exclaim “Sickening!” when he reprises the flavors of his past. Of the few benefits of old age, the lessened need for sleep is one: “sleep,” he remarks, “is a waste of time.” He and his wife decided to have their coffins made, discussing shape, wood, and types of handles with a master carpenter. When the finished products arrived, they had “our trial lie-in,” and then, he writes, “life went on as usual.”
Fractured but elegant musings on dying and, most poignantly, living.