Hailed by critics and readers alike as Günter Grass's best book since The Tin Drum, Crabwalk is an engrossing account of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff and a critical meditation on Germany's struggle with its wartime memories.
The Gustloff, a German cruise ship turned refugee carrier, was attacked by a Soviet submarine in January 1945. Some nine thousand people went down in the Baltic Sea, making it the deadliest maritime disaster of all time. Born to an unwed mother on a lifeboat the night of the attack, Paul Pokriefke is a middle-aged journalist trying to piece together the tragic events. For his teenage son, who dabbles in the dark, far-right corners of the Internet, the Gustloff embodies the denial of Germany's suffering. Crabwalk is at once a captivating tale of a tragedy at sea and a fearless examination of the ways different generations of Germans now view their past.
In Crabwalk, Mr. Grass addresses two other long-buried wartime memories, that of Germans who were expelled from or fled territories once under Nazi occupation and, more specifically, the sinking by a Soviet submarine of a German ship carrying thousands of German refugees. As always, though, he is most interested in the impact of a distant memory on attitudes today. And he warns here of the dangers posed by repressed memory. — Alan Riding