January 28, 2009

The importance of being a poet

The Meeting at Telgte [Das Treffen in Telgte] by Günter Grass

( 1979)

The reason why I’ve read this book was quite simply: I was curious, is there any connection between this novel and the other one, The True Story of Jacob Wunschwitz by Laszlo Marton, who is the Hungarian translator of Grass’ book.

As I mentioned already, the "Jacob Wunschwitz"(unfortunatelly, it isn't any English translation yet) is a starting point for my researching about historical novels, and Grass’ story is set (almost) in the same place and the same period: Germany in the 17. century.

I have to admit, I’ve read only one book by Grass before, The Call of the Toad, I think, it isn’t among his most famous works. Even not The Meeting at Telgte.

Unfortunately, when I wouldn’t have any special aim with this book (see above), probably I would have never finish it.

The story is about poets and other learned men are meeting in an inn in Telgte, near to Ostnabrück and Münster, where the Peace of Westfalia (1648) was signed. Because this story is played in the middle of the century (exactly in 1647), I think, it’s easy to find a connection with the 20. century, and the WW2, which was an another “good” time thinking about the role and importance of arts.

I think, it’s a bit like The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse, it’s an allegory about the European culture too. The poets are talking about poetics and linguistics problem (for example: we can read about the dispute why is better the “Hochdeutsch” dialect for being the official German language), but they also write a proclamation about the peace, and that is the point I think, it’s a bit ironic story: are those some poets so important personalities that the politicians will care about their opinion?

There is a Hungarian poem about the poet should lead the people to Canaan, it’s written in the middle of the 19. century, and shows the romantic ideology about the role of artists. As I know, it’s a typically Central-European attitude and connected with the revolutionary movements in this period. But hundred years later, when this book was written, it seems to be ridiculous (and 150 years later even more ridiculous), and I think, that is the theme of The Meeting at Telgte. The irony how Grass writes about this ideology.

And I think, that is also the weakness of this book. It’s more about a though, about an idea, and less about characters. I can remember the names of the protagonists (these poets existed in the real life) but hardly of their traits. Except only one, the innkeeper. This woman is called sometimes Courage, which is a quite interesting reference to Brecht’s famous work: Mother Courage and Her Children.

Summing up, The Meeting at Telgte has an interesting theme, but the way Grass writes about it, I think, it’s not for me.

(This review was written for the German Reading Challenge and The Decades Challenge)

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