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The Box: Tales from the Darkroomby Gunter Grass
“Once upon a time there was a father who, because he had grown old, called together his sons and daughtersfour, five, six, eight in numberand finally convinced them, after long hesitation, to do as he wished. Now they are sitting around a table and begin to talk . . .”
In an audacious literary experiment, Günter Grass writes in the voices of his eight children as they record memories of their childhoods, of growing up, of their father, who was always at work on a new book, always at the margins of their lives. Memories contradictory, critical, loving, accusatorythey piece together an intimate picture of this most public of men. To say nothing of Marie, Grasss assistant, a family friend of many years, perhaps even a lover, whose snapshots taken with an old-fashioned Agfa box camera provide the author with ideas for his work. But her images offer much more. They reveal a truth beyond the ordinary detail of life, depict the future, tell what might have been, grant the wishes in visual form of those photographed. The children speculate on the nature of this magic: was the enchanted camera a source of inspiration for their father? Did it represent the power of art itself? Was it the eye of God?
Recalling J. M. CoetzeesSummertimeand Umberto EcosThe Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, The Boxis an inspired and daring work of fiction. In its candor, wit, and earthiness, it is Grass at his best.
"It may not be a memoir, but it is an exercise in soul-searching…this is a novel of great humility, questioning whether the measure of a life really is a lifes work... [Grass] shows a remarkable willingness to kick a hole in the usual self-importance of a prize-winning author.""The Box offers "the spectacle of a superb writer examining with playful seriousness and intelligent candor the relations between his work and the past."
-The New York Times Book Review
"Functioning both as experimental fiction and as a sequel of sorts to Peeling the Onion, Grasss latest sheds light on a role the revered German author has thus far only touched upon: fatherhood."
-Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A family documentary in the form of a novel, leaving the reader to decide where the line blurs between fact and fiction…A short, engaging and puzzling novel: “He simply dreams us up!” says a daughter, as the reader wonders what to make of these dreams.”
-Boston Globe "Freed from the defensive crouch of his straightforward memoir, Grass has produced something more obscure and occasionally just as beautiful."
-The Daily Beast
"Is writing in this way the act of a generous father, maybe even a penitent one, or of a tyrannical egotist? This ambiguity is what gives The Boxits modest but genuine power."
"The Boxmoves between the voices of his eight children, in whose collage-like recollections their elusive father-- along with a mysterious woman whose Agfa box camera is an almost magical source of inspiration-- takes shape."
-Vogue("Fall's Best Memoirs")
Once upon a time there was a father, who, having grown old in years, called together his sons and daughters four, five, six, eight in all. For a long time they resisted, but in the end they granted his wish. Now they are seated around a table and all begin to talk at once, all products of their fathers whimsy, using words he has put in their mouths, yet obstinate, too, determined not to spare his feelings despite their love for him. They are still batting around the question: Whos going to start?
The first to come along were two-egged twins. For the purposes of this story they will be called Patrick and Georg, nicknamed Pat and Jorsch, though their real names are different. Then a girl arrived to gladden her parents hearts; she will answer to Lara. These three children enriched our overpopulated world at a time when the Pill was not yet available, before contraception became the norm and families were planned. Not surprisingly, another child arrived to join the others, unbidden, a gift of capricious chance. The name given him is Thaddeus, but all those seated around the table call him Taddel: Quit your clowning, Taddel! Dont trip on your shoelaces, Taddel! Come on, Taddel, lets hear you do your Clueless Rudi number again!
Although grown-up now, with jobs and families of their own, the daughters and sons speak as if bent on regressing, as if they could capture and hold fast the shadowy outlines of the past, as if time could stand still, as if childhood never ended.
From the table, distracted glances can be cast out the window at the rolling landscape to either side of the Elbe-Trave Canal, lined with poplars, trees that are condemned to be cut down in the near future, having been officially categorized as a nonnative species.
In a large pot a hearty stew is steaming, lentils with lamb chops, which the father has set on a low flame to simmer invitingly and seasoned with marjoram. That is how it has always been: father loves to cook for a crowd. Being the provider is what he calls this tendency toward epic generosity. Wielding his ladle equitably, he fills bowl after bowl, each time murmuring one of his sayings, such as Dont forget that the biblical Esau sold his birthright for a mess of lentils. After the meal he will withdraw to his studio, there to plunge back in time, or he may sit on the garden bench with his wife.
Outdoors, spring has come. Indoors, the heat is still on. Once they have spooned up their lentils, the siblings can choose between bottled beer and unfiltered cider. Lara has brought along photos, which she is trying to organize. Something is still missing: Georg, who answers to Jorsch and has professional training in such matters, hooks up the table microphones, because the father insists on having everything recorded. Jorsch asks the others to test the mikes, and finally declares himself satisfied. From now on, the children have the floor.
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