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n Acta Germanica : German Studies in Africa - Die gehäutete Zwiebel oder Dichtung und Wahrheit bei Günter Grass
The peeled onion or the poetry and truth of Günter Grass
The revelation in Günter Grass' book of memoirs, Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (Peeling the Onion), that he had served as a 17-year old in the Waffen-SS in the last months of World War II caused such a storm in the media worldwide that it dominated the debate sparked by the publication of the book in August and September 2006 to the virtual exclusion of any other considerations. And indeed, both the author's public utterances at the time and the attitude displayed in the book indicate that he was at pains to disguise perhaps more than he was prepared to admit about past guilt or complicity. This paper suggests that one way to approach Beim Häuten der Zwiebel is to read it as a meta-textual picaresque novel based on Grass' experiences in the period 1939-1959. Various literary devices employed to achieve this are examined, primarily the use of roles adopted from literary tradition, e.g. Grimmelshausen's Simplicissimus or elements of Goethe's biography. Thus reality and fiction, historical truth and subjective memory are juxtaposed to produce a constant tension and openness characteristic more of fictional than of historical discourse.
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