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Asia

Exhibition introduces Gunter Grass to Taiwanese public

While the 85-year-old German writer Gunter Grass is a controversial figure in his home country, his reputation is intact in Taiwan where a show of his literary and artistic works has just opened.

The criticism is not likely to abate as Gunter Grass celebrates his 85th birthday in Germany. The debate triggered by his poem about Israel is far from over, but elsewhere in the world there is little interest in whether the Nobel laureate has damaged his reputation or not.

The writer is being celebrated at the moment in Taiwan. An exhibition displaying his literary and artistic works has just opened at the National Museum of Taiwan Literature in the country's cultural capital Tainan.

Grass did not attend the opening ceremony - the 12-hour flight was too much for him - but instead he sent a video message. "Ladies and Gentlemen," he said. "I am glad that my pictures and sculptures are being shown to the Taiwanese public."

All about history

Lin-Liu Hui-Ann teaches German language and literature in Taipei and is considered the leading Taiwanese expert on Gunter Grass. She helped Lee Jui-teng, director of the literature museum, who admitted he was not a great Grass expert, organize the exhibition.

Opening of exhibition

The exhibition runs until January 2013

Lin-Liu told DW that the exhibition would be also be interesting to others who did not know the German writer well, if at all. "They won't only get to know Grass but history too - Germany's history, world history and even Asian history."

One hundred watercolors that Grass has painted to accompany his 1999 work "My Century" are on display in Tainan. One episode is about the Boxer Rebellion that was suppressed so brutally by Western troops.

"There's a Bavarian soldier who talks about his experiences of the invasion, what he saw and what he kept secret, what he told his fiancée and what he did not tell her," explained Lin-Liu Hui-Ann.

Courting controversy

Gunter Grass has earned a reputation for saying aloud what others prefer to suppress, for pouring salt on the wounds, and he has earned a certain degree of respect in doing so. The notion of the uncomfortable intellectual is not so common in Taiwan, Markus Wernhard, the head of the Goethe Institute in Taipei told DW.

Etching by Grass

Grass is best known for his literature but is also an accomplished artist

"Grass' active interference in politics, his adoption of a standpoint is something that is not so pronounced in East Asia," he said. "Perhaps this will be a good occasion for writers to think about their own attitudes."

"The visitors to the exhibition might be able to reflect upon their own history," agreed Lin-Liu. She said somebody like Grass would find many topics to examine in Taiwan.

Although the country is one of the few democracies in Asia today, it is still suffering from the impact of decades of martial law. Only rudimentary efforts have been made to delve into the past. Moreover, Taiwan's democracy is under threat from the People's Republic of China.

These are matters Lin-Liu often talks to Grass about on her regular visits to Germany. "He asks me questions about Taiwan, about China and I have to answer. He continues to be very curious."

She was not surprised about Grass' poem and his willingness to court controversy, which she reported on in the China Times.

"I can only say that Grass is Grass. If you read his works then you know he'll never shut his mouth. He expresses his opinion. That's something that has to be recognized. I think it's a good thing."

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