This is the first I've read by Günter Grass,, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.
Grass is struggling with the collective guilt of the German people. The narrator of the story is a hack journalist who is reluctantly drawn into researching the unusual circumstances of his birth, In a lifeboat, after the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by a Russian sub in 1945.
It's cunningly written. Paul Pokriefke, the journalist, doesn't want to know about the past, and is almost vitriolic about his mother, who is always going on about it. These two symbolise Germany's dilemma - Ursula/Tilla has had a traumatic experience and needs to talk about it, but is denied any therapeutic release because of the German culture of silence about their wartime suffering. Paul just doesn't want to know. He's the next generation, with no memory of the event, and he just wants to get on with his life, even if what he's doing isn't particularly worthwhile. He fails to see that some of his lack of direction is due to the circumstances of his birth, but he is able to blame his mother for being so promiscuous that he can't know who is father was, whereas if he were less judgemental he would admit that he could just as easily have been fatherless if his father died in the war.
What forces Paul to confront his, and Germany's history, is his own son's neo-Nazi proclivities...