Gräss, translated by Richard Manheim. Gunter Gräss won the
Nobel Prize For Literature - 1999 Class/Genre: Fiction 1989,
(last reprinted March '03) Harcourt Brace, Fiction/560 pages
Houston Book Club - http://www.HoustonBookClub.com.
February, 2003 book club selection. Selected by Andy N..
Prize for Literature Winner
Creation Myth: The Overthrow of Matriarchy With the Help of
I just did
not like this book, and most of the book club members didn't
either. I found the only way I could get it read was to think
of this as a German version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Galaxy by Doug Adams. Doug Adams did a better job of developing
a fantasy in fewer pages. At 560 pages, reading The Flounder
was a real chore.
This novel, Grass'
heaviest (literally), never satisfies a thirst for knowledge,
insight, or entertainment. The selector did get it cheaply,
so we got a lot of pages for the money.
The Flounder is an
epic creation myth, seen through the eyes of an ever-reincarnated
man, and his ever-reincarnated woman who is always a cook.The
Flounder serves as a mentor to man, and points out how man
can overthrow what was female domination in ancient times.
In modern times,
there is a highly organized group of feminists who determine
that the Flounder has been the strongest proponent of the
overthrow of matriarchal society and they put him on trial.
The narrator and the Flounder use the trial as a method to
go back over history and show the development of patriarchy
in Poland, and how it relates to the potato. Really!
Gunter Gräss wrote
this book as a fiftieth birthday present to himself, and I
hope he liked it.
The opening consists
of our narrator introducing himself and his companion Ilsebill.
She asks him, her mouth stuffed with food, "Should we go to
bed right away, or do you first want to tell me how when where
our story began?" He tells the story, with the help of a lot
of German poetry that really doesn't translate very well.
Coupled since the
Stone Age, these two have witnessed the turning of women in
charge to male dominance due to the advice of a sentient flounder
trying to talk his way out of his intended role as tasty meal.
With each month, there
is a new cook, with a new name and the same quarrel. Despite
the Flounder's patient instruction, the narrator doesn't learn
a thing. Not about women. Maybe the Flounder made a mistake?
When a woman catches him and finds out what he's done to further
the male cause, he finds himself imprisoned and on trial in
a big fish tank with a sandy bottom.
From the publisher (copyright
"Based loosely on Grimm's "The
Fisherman and His Wife," this triumphant blend of folk tale
and contemporary story takes place over the course of nine
months, during which the wife of the narrator becomes pregnant
and is regaled with tales of the various cooks the fisherman
has met throughout his life. The emerging themes of the novel
expose the periods when men made history and women's contributions
went largely, in some cases gravely, unrecognized. Inventive,
imaginative and irreverent, this humorous, fundamentally brilliant
novel highlights the value of modern-day myth and timeless
from Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
(© the Nobel Foundation, 1999)
"In 1973, just when terror - with the active support
of the United States - was beginning to strike in Chile, Willy
Brandt spoke before the United Nations General Assembly, the
first German chancellor to do so.
up the issue of worldwide poverty. The applause following
his exclamation 'Hunger too is war!' was stunning.
was present when he gave the speech. I was working on my novel
The Flounder at the time. It deals with the very
foundations of human existence including food, the lack and
superabundance thereof, great gluttons and untold starvelings,
the joys of the palate and crusts from the rich man's table.
is still with us. The poor counter growing riches with growing
birth rates. The affluent north and west can try to screen
themselves off in security-mad fortresses, but the flocks
of refugees will catch up with them: no gate can withstand
the crush of the hungry."
Too bad this
book wasn't more palatable. It did make me hungry for flounder
at Gaido's in Galveston, however!
are those of the reviewer, and do not necessarily reflect
all of the book club members' assessments.
Louis Hemmi - February, 2003 for www.HoustonBookClub.com