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The Tin Drum by G. Grass

The Tin Drum (original 1959; edition 2010)

by G. Grass

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5,21359855 (4.01)1 / 315
Title:The Tin Drum
Authors:G. Grass
Info:Vintage Books (2010), Paperback
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned

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The Tin Drum by Günter Grass (Author) (1959)


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English (48)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (59)
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
“But every time I shunned books, as scholars sometimes do, cursed them as verbal graveyards, and tried to make contact with the common folk, I ran up against the kids in our building and felt fortunate, after a few brushes with those little cannibals, to return to my reading in one piece.”

The Tin Drum is a fictional autobiography. Oskar Matzerath is writing it from inside a mental institution, the reasons for his incarceration are unknown until the very end of the book. When Oskar was a three year-old, he received a toy tin drum from his mother and decided to stop growing. At the same time, he developed a high-pitched singing voice that he could use to break glass. He remains 3 foot tall most of his life at his father's funeral he suddenly decides to grow again and reaches the height of 4 foot 2.

Oskar's autobiography is also the biography of his family and its history, starting around the turn of the 20th century and extending until after World War II from his grandparents' generation to the present day. His family live in so-called free city of Danzig which gets captured by the Germans at the start of WWII.

Oskar is self-educated having never been to school but learns to read with Rasputin and Goethe the biggest influences on his life. As he grows up he has a variety of adventures. He is present when the Polish Post Office in the city is taken by the Germans. As he grows he becomes the leader of a teenage gang, he gets jobs as varied as a memorial inscriber of grave headstones and a model. He spends some of the war years as part of a travelling troupe of other midgets who travel around Europe entertaining the German soldiers and after the war becomes a renowned and wealthy musician but he never seems to settle at any one thing for any great length of time.

Now I must say that this is probably one of the strangest books that I've read in a long time and large parts of it I found fairly repetitive and over-blown. This repetition made the plot plodding in nature rather than truly riveting IMHO but that said I was constantly intrigued to know what Oskar would get up to next. Overall an interesting read but not a great one for me but then maybe I just missed what was really going on. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Oct 3, 2015 |
A thematically rich and syntactically complex dark comedy, the novel uses these traits to simultaneously heighten and obscure the mundane, the fantastical and the grotesque in the everyday life of its German, Polish and Kashubian characters before, during and after the second world war. It is unreliably, albeit imaginatively, wordplayfully and lyrically, narrated by the willfully stunted protagonist, rendering it as a rewarding novel-long exercise for the reader to read between his florid lines to get through to the patheticness or horrificness of what he is witnessing or perpetrating. The writing itself is a masterpiece in deception.

Part family saga and part historical fiction a la Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children respectively, this is not a straightforward or even connected plot. It meanders, elaborates on minor details for the sake of rhythmic sentence structure, pauses, glosses over violence and successes with an almost disinterested hand, backtracks, excuses itself, fastforwards, provokes, skips, self-references, but by no means is it boring. It is particularly enjoyable if you like playing with words and educational if you have not read about the war from a German perspective before.

Some questions and remarks:
- sometimes for births, Oskar rattles off the position of planets etc, are the planets positions accurate to the time described?,
- on page 233, the railway line from Karthaus to Langfuhr had not yet been cleared of what?,
- there should be an accompanying guide to the book of Bruno's knots and how to make them yourself,
- Oskar is the worst yet still likeable, how did Grass do it?,
- it is disconcerting to realise that the interestingly and innovatively constructed paragraph you just read actually described a rape, murder, execution, violence, suicide, etc and doubly disconcerting when this doubles your appreciation of the author/translator's skills as well as the horrendousness of the act,
- are those nuns dead or not?
- the women are mostly depicted as independent and capable, Anna, Agnes, Maria, Roswitha, they'll marry if they think they need to but maintain sexual autonomy which is refreshing. On that note, what a great cast of characters,
- this is a book which will definitely benefit from a re-read or a read of a different translation. I have no way of knowing, unless I learn German, but Breon Mitchell's translation appears to have captured as well as English can the essence of Grass' prose. ( )
  kitzyl | Aug 23, 2015 |
What more is there to say about one of the most famous novels of the twentieth century? A bold, ambitious and funny picaresque that follows its unreliable narrator from 20s Danzig to the West Germany of the 50s, this is a book with much in common with Latin American magic realism. According to his own account, the narrator Oskar Matzerath decides to stop growing on his third birthday, preferring to play his tin drum and sing-shatter glass, while blaming himself for the premature deaths of many of those closest to him. Full of striking imagery and insight, this new translation aims to be more faithful to Grass's linguistic innovations and rhythms. ( )
  bodachliath | Jul 30, 2015 |
bad timing--there's still way too much 20th c German lit I need to get to before Grass.
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
I read at least part of this book in college -- in the original German -- but I'd forgotten just how strange and twisted of a book it is. It's rather intense overall, especially with the style it's written in. It's quite detailed and rather heavy at times, but it's well-written almost throughout. There were only a few parts, especially towards the end, where I didn't feel as captivated, usually when there was repetition of certain events.

As for the story itself, it's quite difficult in many ways, and quite often. Disturbing, emotional, twisted, tragic, and lots of other "fun" stuff. Not surprising given our narrator, who seems to be precocious and talented, but also wicked and a bit insane as well. The other characters are all quite intriguing in their own ways, but you end up questioning how much you can trust the narrator in all of this, especially given the things he does to the others.

I think I'm glad I read (or re-read) this book, but I don't know that I will be re-reading this in future. It's such an intense book, and I can appreciate it for what it is, but I think I've had my fill, for now at least. ( )
  digitalmaven | Mar 4, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (48 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Grass, GünterAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chmielik, TomaszTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fontcuberta i Gel, JoanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holmberg, NilsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kafka, VladimírTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manheim, RalphTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, BreonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruberl, VittoriaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schuur, KoosTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Secci, LiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Granted: I'm an inmate of a mental institution; my keeper watches me, scarcely lets me out of his sight; for there's a peephole in the door, and my keeper's eye is the shade of brown that can't see through blue-eyed types like me.
Maria frightened Oskar with her hairy triangle.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 067972575X, Paperback)

Meet Oskar Matzerath, "the eternal three-year-old drummer." On the morning of his third birthday, dressed in a striped pullover and patent leather shoes, and clutching his drumsticks and his new tin drum, young Oskar makes an irrevocable decision: "It was then that I declared, resolved, and determined that I would never under any circumstances be a politician, much less a grocer; that I would stop right there, remain as I was--and so I did; for many years I not only stayed the same size but clung to the same attire." Here is a Peter Pan story with a vengeance. But instead of Never-Never Land, Günter Grass gives us Danzig, a contested city on the Polish-German border; instead of Captain Hook and his pirates, we have the Nazis. And in place of Peter himself is Oskar, a twisted puer aeternis with a scream that can shatter glass and a drum rather than a shadow. First published in 1959, The Tin Drum's depiction of the Nazi era created a furor in Germany, for the world of Grass's making is rife with corrupt politicians and brutal grocers in brown shirts:
There was once a grocer who closed his store one day in November, because something was doing in town; taking his son Oskar by the hand, he boarded a Number 5 streetcar and rode to the Langasser Gate, because there as in Zoppot and Langfuhr the synagogue was on fire. The synagogue had almost burned down and the firemen were looking on, taking care that the flames should not spread to other buildings. Outside the wrecked synagogue, men in uniform and others in civilian clothes piled up books, ritual objects, and strange kinds of cloth. The mound was set on fire and the grocer took advantage of the opportunity to warm his fingers and his feelings over the public blaze.
As Oskar grows older (though not taller), portents of war transform into the thing itself. Danzig is the first casualty when, in the summer of 1939, residents turn against each other in a pitched battle between Poles and Germans. In the years that follow, Oskar goes from one picaresque adventure to the next--he joins a troupe of traveling musicians; he becomes the leader of a group of anarchists; he falls in love; he becomes a recording artist--until some time after the war, he is convicted of murder and confined to a mental hospital.

The Tin Drum uses savage comedy and a stiff dose of magical realism to capture not only the madness of war, but also the black cancer at the heart of humanity that allows such degradations to occur. Grass wields his humor like a knife--yes, he'll make you laugh, but he'll make you bleed, as well. There have been many novels written about World War II, but only a handful can truly be called great; The Tin Drum, without a doubt, is one. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:40 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Acclaimed as the greatest German novel written since the end of World War II , The Tin Drum is the autobiography of thirty-year-old Oskar Matzerath who has lived through the long Nazi nightmare and who, as the novel begins, is being held in a mental institution. Willfully stunting his growth at three feet for many years, wielding his tin drum and piercing scream as anarchistic weapons, he provides a profound yet hilarious perspective on both German history and the human condition in the modern world.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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