R.I.P. Günter Grass: A (Sexy) Excerpt from “The Tin Drum”

photo via Wikimedia Commons

The German novelist and Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass died yesterday at the age of 87. According to the New York Times, “He was a pre-eminent public intellectual who had pushed Germans to confront the ugly aspects of their history. … Many called [him] his country’s moral conscience but [he] stunned Europe when he revealed in 2006 that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS during World War II.” He was also know for his poem “criticizing Israel for its hostile language toward Iran over its nuclear program.” And when awarding Grass the Nobel Prize in 1999, the Swedish Academy praised him for embracing “the enormous task of reviewing contemporary history by recalling the disavowed and the forgotten: the victims, losers and lies that people wanted to forget because they had once believed in them.” Oh yeah, and he happens to write a pretty decent sex scene, too. (If only Em had realized this back in school when she was a German major!) No surprise, that’s how we’d like to remember him here on EMandLO.com today.

Grass’s 1959 novel The Tin Drum features a severed horse’s head swarming with hungry eels; a criminal hiding beneath a peasant woman’s layered skirts; and a child who shatters windows with his high-pitched voice. The Nobel Prize peeps called it “one of the enduring literary works of the 20th century.” We chose the excerpt below because it’s a favorite of our old pal Jack Murnighan, of Jack’s Naughty Bits fame. Of this Grass passage, Jack wrote: “The excerpt is Oskar’s first brush with sexuality (told in both first and third person), but even more it is his flash recognition of what normally takes years to realize: that mingled in every moment of sweetest joy is an ashy tinge of finitude.”

From The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

translated by Ralph Manheim

It was quite beyond me why Maria . . . should whistle while removing her shoes, two high notes, two low notes, and while stripping off her socks. Whistling like the driver of a brewery truck she took off the flowery dress, whistling she hung up her petticoat over her dress, dropped her brassiere, and still without finding a tune, whistled frantically while pulling her panties, which were really gym shorts, down to her knees, letting them slip to the floor, climbing out of the rolled-up pants legs, and kicking the shorts into the corner with one foot.

Maria frightened Oskar with her hairy triangle . . . Rage, shame, indignation, disappointment, and a nascent half-comical, half-painful stiffening of my watering can beneath my bathing suit made me forget drum and drumsticks for . . . the new stick I had developed.

Oskar jumped up and flung himself on Maria. She caught him with her hair. He buried his face in it. It grew between his lips. Maria laughed and tried to pull him away. I drew more and more of her into me, looking for the source of her vanilla smell. Maria was still laughing. She even left me to her vanilla, it seemed to amuse her, for she didn’t stop laughing. Only when my feet slipped and I hurt her — for I didn’t let go the hair or perhaps it was the hair that didn’t let me go — only when the vanilla brought tears to my eyes, only when I began to taste mushrooms or some acrid spice, in any case, something that was not vanilla, only when this earthy smell that Maria concealed behind the vanilla brought me back to the smell of the earth where Jan Brodski lay moldering and contaminated me for all time with the taste of perishability — only then did I let go.

You can buy The Tin Drum on Amazon.com