“The children must never find out about what their father has suppressed,” writes Günter Grass in The Box: Tales From the Darkroom, his new memoir in the form of a novel. “Not a word about guilt and other unwelcome deliveries.” The last time Grass wrote about his life, in the more straightforward 2007 memoir Peeling the Onion, suppression and guilt were all that readers wanted to talk about: in particular, the revelation that the teenage Grass, during the last days of the Second World War, had served in the Waffen SS, and concealed this fact for the next six decades. The story made headlines, and not just in book-review sections, because Grass has long been more than just another novelist. Ever since the publication of The Tin Drum, in 1959, he has been something like the conscience of postwar Germany—a position solidified when he won the Nobel Prize in 1999. In his new book, the 83-year-old writer is still reckoning with the past. But this time he turns his attention to a different, and even more complicated, kind of accounting: the one that every parent owes to his children. This means exploring types of guilt and penance that are just as painful, if less sensational, than anything in Peeling the Onion: “Now the inadequate father hopes the children will feel some compassion. For they cannot sweep aside his life, nor he theirs, pretending that none of it ever happened.”
more from Adam Kirsch at Slate here.