Monday, April 06, 2009

book review - Crabwalk

This story echoes some of the same themes of The Reader about the war and guilt but is more of a modern parable of our times. The problem with writing about the internet is that there is already a slighty dated feel to the online world Gunter Grass describes.

The big questions he is trying to answer are around the idea of guilt and responsibility. In war is the sinking of a ship carrying refugees something that can be mourned over in the same way that some of the losses on the sides of victors are commemorated? Does the wartime generation have a responsibility to the way that history is passed down and interpreted by their children?

The background against how those questions are mulled over is the story of a father who has lost the respect of his mother and son. The old woman is able to influence the son and in her tales as a survivor of the sinking if the refugee ship she creates a fledgling Nazi. Her grandson uses the Internet and modern technology to refight the battles of the past. He is fighting his battles against another teenager who picks up the mantle of the Jewish sideof the debate.

Meanwhile the father can see what is happening with the son but is unable to reach him. The ultimate battle between the two teenagers playing at representing the past in the present ends in death and imprisonment.

To a certain degree the blame is squarely on the shoulders of those that propogate the lies from the past with the grandmother, who remains unrepentant. But the father is also useless in the face of the past and unable to correct the path his son is taking.

In one way if the idea of the book was to make you think about the past then it works. But if it was also taking a swipe at the Internet and the way it can be exploited by extremists then it fails because it already feels simplistic and out of date. Still it can provoke some thoughts and that is what good literature should do.

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