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books: That was Then, This is Now.

What do three best-selling authors have up their sleeves this spring?

Gunter Grass

Then: "The Tin Drum"

(Knopf, $15.95)

Originally published in 1959, "The Tin Drum" is a novel about World War II that won the Nobel Prize for literature. Heavily steeped in magical realism, Grass's novel follows the bizarre life of Oskar Matzerath, a three-year-old boy who decides to stop growing. While Oskar gets older, but not any taller, his humorous exploits on the German-Polish border reveal the darkness of humanity during the war.

Now: "Crabwalk"

(Harcourt, $25), out April 2003

This eagerly anticipated novel recounts the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a cruise ship turned refugee carrier. Sunk by a Soviet submarine in January 1945, 9,000 people went down with the ship into the Baltic Sea. The novel follows Paul Pokriefka, who was born on a lifeboat on the night of the attack, and the novel reveals the ways different generations of Germans think of their past.

T.Coraghessan Boyle

Then: "East Is East"

(Penguin USA, $14)

A young Japanese sailor jumps ship off the coast of Georgia and washes up on a small barrier island. The way in which the denizens of this island react is both humorous and insightful. Boyle casts a sardonic web of tragicomedy in this 1991 novel of cross-cultural differences and failed opportunities.

Now: "Drop City"

(Viking Penguin, $25.95), out March 2003

Boyle's ninth novel is set in the early '70s and follows the idealistic members of a hippie commune in Sonoma County, Calif., called Drop City. When the property is condemned by the local authorities, the clan of Aquarians pulls up roots and heads to Boynton, Alaska. The resulting clash of ideologies promises to make for fascinating and hilarious reading about the counterculture of America.

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