Cat and Mouse

by Günter Grass

Hardcover, 1963





New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, [1963]


The setting is Danzig during World War II. The narrator recalls a boyhood scene in which a black cat pounces on his friend Mahlke’s “mouse”-his prominent Adam’s apple. This incident sets off a wild series of events that ultimately leads to Mahlke’s becoming a national hero. Translated by Ralph Manheim. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book

User reviews

LibraryThing member GlebtheDancer
I found this book incredibly compelling for reasons I am struggling to put my finger on. Grass is, as usual, addressing the advent of Nazism in Germany through the most oblique of angles, in this case a portrait of a strange, aloof, superior boy called Joachim Mahlke. Mahlke's development from awkward boy to Aryan war hero is charted by a close friend and admirer. Grass paints a vivid picture of Mahlke, the archetypal German soldier, with love, affection and fear in equal measure. The narrative is only occasionally visible, but studded with Grass-esque motifs such as the half sunken polish warboat and that little boy with his tin drum, resulting in an almost dreamlike journey through Mahlke's life. Mahlke is one of the most singular characters in world literature, yet manages to represent a whole country's descent into madness better than almost any I have read. Consequently, 'Cat and Mouse', despite saying little directly, speaks volumes in its details.… (more)
LibraryThing member Kristelh
Read for 1001, BOTM October 2019. This is the second book in the Danzig Trilogy but other than a couple of cameo appearance of the little drummer, it is not necessary to have read The Tin Drum first in my opinion. I enjoyed this one so much more than the first book. The story is about The Great Mahlke as he is eventually labeled by his adolescent peer. Mahlke is an awkward youth with an enormously large Adam's apple. The story opens with the description of a cat pouncing on Mahlke's Adam apple. The story is told by an unreliable, unnamed narrator, until the 8th chapter when we finally are given the name Pilenz. The boys spend their days swimming out to a sunken boat and sit on the ships bridge which rises a little above water and represents the destructiveness of war. The title, Cat and Mouse, can be taken as a metaphor of war, society, and victim or it can be a description of the relationship of our narrator (the observer) and Mahlke the performer. Is Pilenz the cat who stalks Mahlke, the mouse. Is Pilenz writing a confession or is this a game of Cat and Mouse?

The story is a coming of age story of adolescent boys at a time where they are facing war after they are no longer school boys. There is some crudity and sexual themes but then, isn't adolescent boys full of crudity and sexual talk? A story of boyhood and adolescence in WWII Danzig.

Symbols and motifs abound. The Adam's apple and the objects that are hung around his neck; screwdriver, virgin Mary necklace, pom poms, mufflers, Iron Cross.

The atmosphere is one of impending crisis. The reader is drawn along, knowing no good will be the conclusion to the study of Mahlke by this Pilenz.
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LibraryThing member JBarringer
If this book had been published in our modern era, it would have been released as a YA title, since it is set in an elite high school, in German-occupied Poland during WW2. It shows a different side of the war, where the war is relatively far off, intruding into the lives of the boys in the story through sunken military vessels and worries about volunteering for military training and the constant possibility of losing a loved one who is off fighting. The story is tense, but the boys and their teachers are trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy despite the fact that the world outside their immediate area is far from normal and definitely unsafe. I was a bit annoyed at all the suspense Grass builds into the narrative, since most of it falls flat. The narrator keeps saying 'if only' as if the choices he made led to some terrible disaster, but when the story ends, the narrator doesn't seem at all upset about the terrible disaster. This inconsistency extends beyond the central 'conflict', and robs the story of its momentum. But as a literary novel this was a pretty good, and short book.
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LibraryThing member nandadevi
I suspect some readers coming at Grass after reading (or seeing the movie of) the Tin Drum might be confounded by the dense imagery of this slender volume. Word pictures simultaneously point at, and deflect attention from, the ´moral´ of the story. Others have referred (very perceptively) to this as Grass´s obliqueness, but ´Grassness´ might be the word to best describe it. In some ways it´s like reading a few feet of a core sample drilled through a thousand years of German/Polish history, and attempting to discern from that not only plot, but the grand themes of the time. In an odd way this book is more enjoyable when read after both Tin Drum and Dog Years. Characters and hints of plot from outside this particular book wander on and off stage, weaving Cat and Mouse into the middle of Grass´s Danzig trilogy and Grass´s moral history.… (more)
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
A little bit of Dog Days which sprouted and grew a life of its own. A worthy successor to The Tin Drum. Thoughts on youth and war in Danzig.
LibraryThing member NChap
I just gave this book 1 star because I didn't really like the story and it didn't end right.
LibraryThing member mojacobs
I have this book in the Dutch translation. It's the second part of the Danzig trilogy, telling about the author's youth. The Tin Drum is part one of this trilogy.
This book tells the story of The Great Mahlke, a classmate the writer was infatuated with as a teenager, against the backdrop of World War II. From the beginning the writer hints at tragedy to come, but everything is told very matter of factly, the way a teenager would tell it. Grass is a great and respected writer, Nobel Prize winner, and yet, I did not like this. It's hard to say why. I found it hard to relate to the characters, and felt no great urge to "know what happened next" either. Perhaps it has lost too much in translation? I think it is just me: I did not like The Tin Drum either.”… (more)
LibraryThing member Ebba
I absolutely loved the Tin Drum and had been looking forward to my next read with this author. I feel really disappointed because Cat and Mouse does not even come close to the Tin Drum in my opinion.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
'Cat and Mouse' is a fascinating short novel by the German Gunter Grass, following the early life of the narrator, his friends, and Mahlke, a boy with such a massive Adam's apple that the narrator likens it to a mouse. The story mostly takes place in and around the Oliwa district of Gdansk - then called Danzig, of course - as the world lurches towards the Second World War. The sense of place is magnificently realised, and the relationships between the principle characters are well explored, but I did feel that towards the end the story ran out of steam somewhat.… (more)


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