„My box takes pictures of things that aren’t there. And it sees things that weren’t there. Or shows things you’d never in your wildest dreams imagine. It’s all-seeing, my box. Must be a result of the fire. It’s acted crazy ever since.”
The photographer Maria Rama with her Agfa box enters as the figure »Mariechen« into Grass's autobiographical novel The Box. Tales from the Darkroom (2008). The writer's friend has been taking pictures of him and his family since the 1950s. As a literary figure, she appears with her camera throughout the work. The lithograph assembles a number of illustrations of the photographer taking pictures in different positions. They look like humorous studies of movement suggestive of caricatures and dovetailing with the narrative's casual language style.
In the novel, the writer/narrator Grass summons his eight children – four from his first marriage with Anna, two girls out of wedlock, and Ute Grass's two sons from her first marriage – in order to talk to them about the past. The names of the children are changed. The book describes little and big stories from the everyday life of a patchwork family interspersed with the literary and political activities of the writer/narrator. The tone and the inclusion of autobiographical elements in the novel is similar to Grass's prose piece From the Diary of a Snail (1972), which also features some of his children. The introductory sentence »Once upon a time there was a father...« places the novel The Box in the tradition of a modern fairy tale. This offers the opportunity of incorporating elements of fantasy into everyday family life, such as »Mariechen's« photo box, which »could not only look into the past but also see the future«.