cover image Of All That Ends

Of All That Ends

Günter Grass, trans. from the German by Breon Mitchell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (176p) ISBN 978-0-544-78538-0

Grass (The Tin Drum), an acclaimed, controversial German novelist and 1999 Nobel Prize winner for literature, devotes his final work to a thoughtful, uncompromising meditation on death and aging. Grass, who died after a sudden illness in 2015, was clearly already thinking of his own mortality when he wrote this book. The text is a mix of prose and poetry, interspersed with black-and-white sketches that display his less heralded talent for drawing. In reminiscences of his boyhood and musings on the mundane (his smoking pipes, food, letter-writing), he describes loss, change, and memory with a combination of melancholy and wit, and occasionally with defiance. As always in his work, current events and politics are never far. Several of the poems address the growing refugee debate and Grass’s call for compassion and acceptance, and in a clever micro-essay titled “Unteachable” he slyly refers to his left-leaning politics by the metaphor of his left-handedness, suppressed when he was a boy. As he writes in the final poem of the book, from which the entire volume takes its name: “No more trouble now,/and all will soon be well/and nothing remain/and all be at an end”—except, of course, for the art that outlives its creator and helps guide readers along their own journeys. (Dec.)