cover image Show Your Tongue

Show Your Tongue

Gunter Grass. Mariner Books, $19.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-15-682330-2

When Grass ( The Rat ) first traveled to Calcutta years ago, that ``horrifying city . . . would not let him go.'' Returning in 1986 for a six-month visit with his wife, he set out to write, sketch, meet Indian authors and artists, assist with a production of his play, Plebeians , and generally seek culture shock. This book, collecting his drawings and his verbal impressions, reflects Grass's ``unbidden love for . . . a city damned to offer lodgings to every human misery.'' The slashing, scrawling lines of the artwork portray ``festering slums,'' people asleep on sidewalks and a Goyaesque sense of abject, anarchic dispossession (``Forget the twaddle about art. Do decay with a broad brush, with the edge of the pen, with crumbling charcoal''). In words, Grass records visits to sacred temples, hospital morgues and emergency rooms (``where, following regulations, we have to remove our shoes and stand barefoot in the filth''). ``All framed and pedestaled works of art should be forced to compete with such scenes from reality,'' he contends, and his radical anti-coffee-table book, though less original in manner and matter than his fiction, vigorously protests the complacence of the common traveler, Westerner and reader. (May)