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Llosa remembers Grass

Interview: Ute Thofern / kbmApril 14, 2015

Günter Grass belonged to a disappearing generation of politically active writers, says Mario Vargas Llosa - though the two Nobel Prize winners didn't always agree on politics.

Mario Vargas Llosa, Copyright: AFP/Getty Images/A.-C. Poujoulat
Image: AFP/Getty Images/A.-C. Poujoulat

DW: What was your reaction when you heard the news that Günter Grass had passed?

Mario Vargas Llosa: Sadness. […] In my opinion, Günter Grass was one of the most significant writers of the 20th century. In particular his novel "The Tin Drum," which made him famous, is one of the most important books written in the 20th century - both regarding the quality of the language as well as the symbolic power of the story, which is a unique reflection on the drama of the Second World War.

Grass deserved the international reputation he achieved. What's more, I think that Günter Grass represents a type of writer that is becoming scarcer and scarcer. One that is politically involved and participates in public debate. I think that this type of writer can hardly be found today. He not only made a contribution through his activism, but also with the power of his language, which expands our imaginative capabilities. And that, too, should be an important part of politics.

To what extent did Grass' political stance influence his work?

Grass defended things in his country, which I find very respectable. He attacked the left and the communist because he believed in democracy and he defended the SPD [Social Democratic Party].

We had a disagreement because he said that Latin America should follow Cuba's example. That was a contradiction in terms for me - he defended democracy, but wanted communism for Latin America. I asked how Europe and Latin America were so different that we had to suffer communist dictators while the Europeans could enjoy democracy, pluralism, press freedom and human rights?

I think that Günter Grass stood for something that unfortunately very many European intellectuals represented: The two-pronged path. Democracy for Europe, but a utopia with guerilleros, bombs, civil war and revolution for Latin America. Many Europeans supported this absolutely romantic and wrong idea and that caused us a great deal of damage.

That was the reason for the conflict we had. But otherwise we had a very congenial relationship. The conflict didn't interrupt our friendship. The truth is that we remained friends until the end and we had a very entertaining relationship.

What has the world lost?

I think that the work of Günter Grass will continue to unfold because he has left behind many novels. Works like "The Tin Drum" and "Dog Years" will be remembered. But there were other novels, like "The Flounder," which weren't so well received. That was a book that he worked on for a very long time, but that wasn't very successful. But he always held on to his project, of change the world of the novel - its style and structure.

Without a doubt, Günter Grass will be remembered as one of the most significant authors of our time.

Mario Vargas Llosa was born in Peru in 1936 and studied and lived for a time in Europe. He has been politically active throughout his career, drifting from the left towards liberalism. He received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1996 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.