Guenter Grass – one of the most significant and controversial German novelists of all time – has died at the age of 87 in Luebeck, the Goettingen-based publishing house Steidl Verlag said Monday.
Grass died of an infection, according to a Guenter Grass House museum spokeswoman.
His home city of Luebeck, a major port in the north of Germany, was in mourning as tributes began pouring in.
“This is a heavy loss for Luebeck, but also for German and world literature,” the city’s mayor, Bernd Saxe, told dpa. “My deeply felt sympathy goes out to his wife and his family.”
“We are grateful for all the experiences we were able to share with him,” Guenter Grass House director Joerg-Philipp Thomsa told dpa.
German President Joachim Gauck praised Grass as a great writer.
“In his novels, stories and in his poetry can be found the great hopes and mistakes, the fears and longings of whole generations,” Gauck wrote in a letter of condolence.
Grass was not afraid of argument or criticism and he influenced political debates over decades, he added.
“His work is a formidable mirror of our country and a lasting part of its literary and artistic heritage.”
British Indian writer Salman Rushdie tweeted: “This is very sad. A true giant, inspiration, and friend. Drum for him, little Oskar.”
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that he was “deeply distraught” at Grass’ death. Grass was a great citizen and son of the northern port city of Leubeck and it was tragic that he died just before his beloved city became the focus of the world’s attention for the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting due to start Tuesday.
The Nobel Prize-winning novelist emerged as one of Germany’s most important post-World War II writers following the 1959 publication of his first novel, The Tin Drum, which the Nobel committee later called a “rebirth of the German novel in the 20th century.”
Grass was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1999 for his body of work, which includes Cat and Mouse, Dog Days, From the Diary of a Snail, The Flounder and The Rat.
A supporter of the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD), Grass never shied away from socio-political debates in Germany.
But it was his 2006 novel Peeling the Onion that aroused the most controversy. The book, spanning 20 years of the author’s youth, included the shock admission that he was briefly a member of Hitler’s Waffen SS during the latter part of World War II.
The disclosure rocked Grass’ reputation as a moral authority, and some of his adversaries even claimed the revelation was no more than an exercise in damage control before others exposed the truth.
Grass faced scathing criticism for keeping quiet about his SS role for more than half a century. There were calls for him to be stripped of his Nobel Prize and to be deprived of the honorary citizenship of his native Gdansk.
In 2012, Grass sparked controversy after he published a poem that was critical of Israel, saying its possession of nuclear weapons threatened world peace.
Israel declined to comment officially on the death of the Nobel laureate, but historian Moshe Zimmermann told Israeli radio that many Israelis who loved Grass’ works felt hurt by the poem, which led to Grass being declared persona non grata in the Jewish state.
Born in 1927 of German-Polish parents in what was then Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland, Grass was a pacifist and a fierce critic of the US-led war in Iraq. GNA