|Gunter Grass, Cat and Mouse cover art from the original English language translation, published in 1963.|
Cat and Mouse (1963)
by Gunter Grass
Cat and Mouse is the second book in Grass' Danzig Trilogy, so called because each title takes place in and around Danzig. Unlike the other two titles in the trilogy (The Tin Drum and Dog Years) Cat and Mouse is short, around one hundred pages long. This novella concerns the relationship between the narrator, Pilenz, and his school chum, Joachim Mahlke or "Mahlke the great." The two attend the same gymnasium and the narrative shifts between the second and third person as Pilenz describes Mahlke's adventures.
Much of the action takes place on a barge in the harbor, where Mahlke discovers a sunken Polish minesweeper. He and his class mates take turns diving beneath the water and retrieving artifacts and Mahlke's obsession with the wreck is central to the symbolic world of Cat and Mouse. The main incident occurs when Mahlke inexplicably steals the Iron Cross of a visiting Nazi soldier. Eventually he confesses his crime both to Pilenz and the head of the school, whereupon he is expelled. He subsequently becomes a soldier of reknown, fighting in a unit of tanks (for the Germans, in World War II) on the Eastern front.
Returning to Danzig a hero, he is denied an opportunity to speak to the student body because of his prior disgrace, and deserts the army, ending his life at the same submerged wreck that was the locus of the opening pages of the book. Compared to The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse is like a coda. Oskar, the child-dwarf of The Tin Drum even makes cameo appearances in Cat and Mouse to remind the reader of what has come before. Cat and Mouse lacks the elaborate narrative pyrotechnics of The Tin Drum, indeed it functions as an almost wholly conventional novella and fits squarely within the 20th century "coming of age" genre with only the setting in Danzig to distinguish itself from a thousand other books with similar concerns.