Houston Book Club Book Review - The Flounder by Gunter Grass
* Houston Book Club Book Review - The Flounder by Gunter Grass- February, 2003

© 1999 - The Nobel Foundation


  The Flounder (Der Butt) by Gunter Gräss  

Review by Louis Hemmi - Houston Book Club


By Gunter 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..

1999 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner
Creation Myth: The Overthrow of Matriarchy With the Help of a Flounder

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 Harcourt Brace):
"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 legend."

Puleeze !

Excerpt 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.

He brought up the issue of worldwide poverty. The applause following his exclamation 'Hunger too is war!' was stunning.

I 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.

The issue 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!

All opinions 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