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Books

Grass' books are his 'ticket to immortality'

Berlin-based Russian author Wladimir Kaminer, who met Günter Grass, believes the Noble Prize winner's works will captivate generations to come. Both authors shared the urge to understand their own past through writing.

DW: Mr. Kaminer, you just heard about Günter Grass' death. How do you feel?

Wladimir Kaminer: I find he chose the wrong time to die. Spring has finally started, the sun is shining and everything is green - that's not when people should be dying.

Wladimir Kaminer Meine russischen Nachbarn Copyright: Manhattan

Kaminer's stories are always filled with humor and irony

Where did you meet Grass?

We met in Poland. In 2006, there was a delegation sent to Poland to improve and strengthen German-Polish relations. He was born in Danzig [now Gdansk], and so Poland was special for Günter Grass. That's why he was invited. I was there because of my Russian background, because I'm a Russian author working in Germany. President Horst Köhler was also part of the delegation.

What was your relationship with Grass?

He tried several times to pull me on the political track. I always stayed friendly but kept my distance. We weren't good friends. We only met abroad, in Poland or in a literature festival in Paris, for instance, but never privately.

Were his works important to you?

I didn't read all of his books, but some of them. I see Günter Grass as an art project. He expressed himself in all art forms. He didn't only write - he also worked as a sculptor and a poet. I think he did pretty much everything an artist can do - alright, he didn't dance or sing. But he painted. I've seen his paintings and his sculptures.

Hamburg exhibition, Günter Grass picture alliance / dpa / K. Nietfeld

A multifaceted artist: Günter Grass not only wrote, he also painted and made sculptures

I've mostly read his earlier books. I think the last of his books I've read was "Crabwalk," which deals with history through his memories. I can really relate to the message he transmitted through his books. He aimed to capture the past. This is a very important challenge in this world which is changing so quickly. You see how people are dying without notice, states suddenly disappear and houses turn to dust. The only thing that remains is the stories - provided that they were told in a clear and exciting way by the authors, so that the next generations will still want to read them. I think Günter Grass managed to do that. What he wrote will still be read in a 100 years.

Did you have a favorite Günter Grass book?

I really like "The Tin Drum."

Did one of his books specifically influence your own work?

I would not say that he influenced me as a writer but as a human being. And I can relate to his attitude to his work as a writer. I also work that way. I don't see my job as thinking up things, imitating feelings I have never experienced, writing about people I don't know or about events in which I didn't take part. I try to understand my own reality and my own past, to figure what actually happened. Because when you don't understand the past, you can't figure out your own present reality and you are afraid of the future. His books and what he did were his ticket to immortality. This is the only way to defeat ephemerality and become part of the world's legacy. It's the only legacy which remains.

Günter Grass was also a very polemic figure. Do you think he'll be missed in the literary world?

Film Russendisko, 2012. Copyright: Stephan Rabold

Still from the film "Russendisko," based on Kaminer's short stories

He was certainly a very controversial person and I don't believe you can simply replace him with another one. The times have changed, but new polemic figures will come, I'm sure. But of course he will be missed! This is a whole generation of authors who are progressively leaving us. These are authors, who described the life and this history of a country which no longer exists. Divided Germany, the Germany of the 20th century, now only exists in the works of these authors: They make it immortal. That's my theory. There will be new times and new authors will come to record these times.

What is your position towards his critical comments, such as his controversial Israel poem?

I see a debate which is not completed yet. I wish more authors with different opinions and positions on political themes would take position. He did that and we should see him as a role model and do the same.

Wladimir Kaminer was born in 1967 and emigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1990 to live in Berlin. Since the mid-1990s, he has been writing humorous and ironic short stories and novels about his experiences as a Russian immigrant, many of which have become bestsellers. His most successful book was the collection of short stories released in English as "Russian Disco" in 2002. It was also made into a feature film in 2012.

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