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He was born in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland). Since 1945, he has lived in West Germany (now Germany), but in his fiction he frequently returns to the Danzig of his childhood.
He is best known for his first novel, The Tin Drum, a key text in European magic realism. His works frequently have a strong left wing, socialist political dimension, and Grass has been an active supporter of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. In 2006, Grass caused a controversy with his disclosure of Waffen-SS service during the final months of World War II.
Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig on 16 October 1927, to Willy Grass (1899-1979), a Protestant ethnic German, and Helene Grass (n̩e Knoff, 1898-1954), a Roman Catholic of Kashubian-Polish origin. Grass was raised a Catholic. His parents had a grocery store with an attached apartment in Danzig-Langfuhr (now Gdansk-Wrzeszcz). He has one sister, who was born in 1930.
Grass attended the Danzig Gymnasium Conradinum. He volunteered for submarine service with the Kriegsmarine “to get out of the confinement he felt as a teenager in his parents house” which he considered – in a very negative way – civic Catholic lower middle class. In 1943 he became a Luftwaffenhelfer, then he was drafted into the Reichsarbeitsdienst, and in vember 1944, shortly after his seventeenth birthday, into the Waffen-SS. The seventeen-year-old Grass saw combat with the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg from February 1945 until he was wounded on 20 April 1945 and sent to an American POW camp.
In 1946 and 1947 he worked in a mine and received a stonemasons education. For many years he studied sculpture and graphics, first at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, then at the Universitat der Kunst Berlin. He also worked as an author and travelled frequently. He married in 1954 and since 1960 has lived in Berlin as well as part-time in Schleswig-Holstein. Divorced in 1978, he remarried in 1979. From 1983 to 1986 he held the presidency of the Berlin Akademie der Knste (Berlin Academy of Arts).
About the Author
To compensate for his unusually large Adam’s apple source of both discomfort and distress fourteen year old Joachim Mahlke turns himself into athlete and ace diver. Soon he is known to his peers and his nation as The Great Mahlke. But to his enemies, he remains a target. He is different and doomed in a country scarred by the war. Cat and Mouse was first published in 1961, two years after Gunter Grass controversial and applauded masterpiece, The Tin Drum. Once again Grass turns his attention on Danzig. With a subtle blend of humour and power, Cat and Mouse ostensibly relates the rise of Mahlke from clown to hero. But Mahlke’s outlandish antics hide the darkness at the heart of a nation torn by Nazi violence, the war and its aftermath.