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The Tin Drum – Günter Grass



Posted September 4, 2016 by

The Tin Drum – Günter Grass – 1959

Reviewed by: Chris Green          Date: 25 May 2002

A boy who is perpetually three years old, who is of questionable paternity, who commits patricide against both of his fathers, who sings holes in glass, and who is able to both find emotional salve and manipulate others through his drum. Doesn’t sound much like a novel that would be coherent, let alone good, but somehow The Tin Drum works and works well.

Oskar Matzerath, the aforementioned three year old, narrates this odd tale rich in metaphor which spans the period encompassing the world wars in Germany. It can be read as the personal experience of a young, largely uncomprehending child during a period of great societal change, or as a metaphor for the growth and fitfull development of modern Germany itself. Personally, I prefer to read the metaphorical side because the parallel between Oskar’s refusal to grow up and Germany’s refusal to become a modern state (at least before if was forced to become one) presents an interesting idea. In many ways I was reminded of Midnight’s Children by Grass’ style of weaving together the coming-of-age of a child with that of a nation.

At times Grass’ prose bogged down in the minutae of Oskar’s story, and yet at times the book is genuinely funny. Overall the novel weaves a complex story with numerous interesting characters. I think this novel is one which, despite the magical realism, is definitive of both 20th century literature and the experience of an entire generation in Germany.

Reviewed by: D.W. Cymbalisty   

Overall, The Tin Drum seemed to be a drawn-out laborious journey for me. I’ve always heard so much about the merits of The Drum, perhaps I was expecting too much from it? The first three or four chapters had me thoroughly absorbed in Oskar’s ancestry, and for the rest of the book I kept waiting for someone as interesting and human as his grandmother Anna to show up, but I was to be disappointed. Granted, Oskar’s mother Agnes is another great and consistent character, but besides these two… oyvay! Oskar was such an unreal personage that I found him impossible to trust as a narrator… with every beat of his drum he startled the already frightened theme of this book into a corner. I never found that corner. If you enjoy authors who tend to dive in and out of the “fantastic” and the “real” I would recommend you go to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hermann Hesse, or Charles Williams, but for goodness sakes… “Keep off the Grass.”

Reviewed by: Lale 

“Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.”

This is how The Tin Drum starts. You are hooked, aren’t you? It is one of those books that keeps you hooked the entire time, even though you might find what you are reading ridiculous and annoying. Written with a variety of techniques, The Tin Drum is one of the most bizarre stories ever written.

It is the story of Oscar. Thirty years of Oscar. Before, during and after Third Reich. The setting is Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) where Günter Grass himself was born.

Oscar is no ordinary character. Just to give an example, he can cut out a heart shape on a wine glass with his voice. Only one of his many weird traits. There is of course the toy tin drum he ceaselessly beats on…

However, don’t let the unreal character and adventures of Oscar distract you from the atrocities of World War II. Some scenes made my blood curdle. Especially the “post office” episode. No war abomination has ever been written with such peculiar side-stories, with such extraordinary details and with such phenomenal satire.

You may love it, you may hate it. No matter. You still have to read it.

ReadLit Team


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