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The Tin Drum (1959)

by Günter Grass

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Danzig Trilogy (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,481801,049 (3.98)1 / 365
Acclaimed as the greatest German novel written since the end of World War II,The Tin Drumis 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.Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim.… (more)
1950s (10)
Europe (295)
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Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
Review of The Tin Drum
Author: Gunter Grass
Review by Patrick Charsky
1/21/2020
ISBN: 978-0-15-101416-3

September 1, 1939 will be a date remembered throughout the ages. It is the date that World War II began with the invasion of Poland by Germany. It is the most important date in the 20th Century. In Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum we see the first battle of the Second World War in his home city of Danzig. The first battle of WWII sets the stage for the novel. It shows us the brutal History in up close and personal detail.
Gunter Grass was a famous German author who won the Nobel Prize in 1999. He wrote many works of Literature. The Tin Drum is part of a trilogy of novels set in Danzig. The Tin Drum was made famous by a film adaptation done in 1979. The Film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best International Feature Film.
This review will talk about the three separate novels which comprise the work as a whole. I will write a brief summary paragraph of the novel. Then I’ll address three areas for analysis. The first point of analysis will be the characters of the novel. The second point will be about the conflicts that the novel deals with. And the last part of the analysis will concern it’s settings.
The book uses many literary devices to tell its story. The main character, Oskar, tells the story from a first person point of view and from a point of view of recollection. There is frequent varying of Oskar’s point of view. The point of view varies at times, but it always remains a story told from Oskar’s small, childlike view. This affects how the story is written. The story follows Oskar from the day he was born until the late 1950’s. Oskar has a fall on his third birthday and stops growing. His intellect keeps developing, but he is a dwarf or gnome-like character. The novel is about Oskar’s adventures from year to year. The major theme of the novel is that life goes on no matter what. Nazisim, World War II, suicide, murder, betrayal, everything that must be endured in a human lifetime passes until it doesn’t anymore. The novel is a novel about German guilt over the responsibility it has to accept for starting WWII and committing numerous atrocities. Grass intends that there be no whitewashing of History and his novel reflects that idea.
The characters of the book are incredibly likeable. Oskar is a young boy through the early part of the novel. His opinions and adventures make the novel very funny and full of drama. Oskar is a little evil. He plots against his father Herr Matzerath by siding with the Pole, Jan Bronski. Bronski is a character which I felt a deep sympathy for. He was having an affair with Herr Matzerath’s wife, Agnes Koljiaczek who was also Jan Bronski’s cousin. The love triangle makes life unbearable for Agnes when she gets pregnant. The conflicts between different ethnicities make for a lot of drama. Matzerath is a German and Protestant. Jan Bronski is Polish and Catholic. Agnes is Kashubian and Catholic. These facts are never entirely reconciled. Agnes kills herself rather than face the scandal of having a child out of wedlock with someone who wasn’t her husband. She meets a tragic end. Jan Bronski meets his end while defending the Polish Post Office. Matzerath is killed by the Russians at the end of the War. Oskar sees all of their deaths. Each character is distinct and contrasts nicely with each other. Grass shows the diversity and differences in his home city of Danzig.
There are numerous other characters in the novel that provide contrast and heighten the conflicts of the times. Sigismund Marcus is a Jewish toy merchant who is killed by the Nazis in the Night of Broken Glass. Herbert Truczinski is a Polish bar bouncer with numerous wounds from knife fights. Bebra is a dwarf who performs in Circuses. It is through Bebra that Oskar sees the World, becomes a successful drummer, and falls in love with Roswitha. The cast of characters is wide and full of interesting detail. There is no stereotypical or cookie cutter persons in the novel.
The second strength of the novel is the conflicts that abound. There are large conflicts like the Second World War, the differences between Germans and Poles, and with the rise of the Nazis, violence, destruction, and carnage. The War provides numerous passages of conflict. The fall of the Polish Post Office signals the beginning of War and the end of the peace of the Treaty of Versailles. It brings Jan Bronski into conflict with Herr Matzerath. Matzerath has become a member of the Nazi Party. Bronski works at the Polish Post Office. And they are both in love with Agnes. This love triangle propels the novel forward until Agnes dies. The larger conflicts subside after the Russians invade Danzig and bring an end to the Nazis. With the end of the War and the Nazis also comes the end of Matzerath.
The book is full of smaller conflicts too. Oskar is obsessed with his Tin Drum. He needs a new Tin Drum all the time. Oskar is frequently at odds with his presumptive father, Herr Matzerath. In the third book Oskar fights with Maria too. He is in love with Maria, but she has taken to Matzerath. They have a child, Kurt, who despises Oskar. When Oskar moves to Dusseldorf he meets a cast of characters who he has good times with, but who inevitably fall away from him until he is alone.
The novel reveals Oskar as a little rascal. He goes on one adventure after another. Each chapter in the novel reveals how Oskar lived and suffered. From the end of the War until he was an artist’s model in 1950’s West Germany, we see that Oskar grows up until he turns 30 and doesn’t have a clue as to what will come next. That is the joy of the novel. Finding out what will become of Oskar? What drama will happen to Oskar the little dwarf who has endured so much, but cannot stop. Life goes on and so must Oskar.
The third strength of the novel are the settings the book shows us. Danzig after WWI, during the rise of the Nazis, WWII, and after. Many people fall into generalizations about Germany, Poland, and the rest of Europe during the War Years. This includes myself. Gunter Grass does an excellent job of making these places specific and populating his novel with real, authentic people we develop a deep empathy for. This is especially true for a place like Danzig which was established after WWI and was claimed by both the Germans and Poles. Oskar takes us on trips to Occupied Paris where he finds love and success as a performer. In the last part of the novel we get to see and experience the German Economic Miracle that happened in West Germany during the 1950’s. These settings are shown through vivid descriptions and the point of view of Oskar. It was like going on trips without having to leave your home.
The novel has no shortcomings. If you don’t have an interest in Europe or it’s History the novel might not be for you. The book varies its style and structure to keep the reader interested and the story moving forward from one adventure to another. The chapters are short. The endings to each chapter are where Grass really excels at storytelling. I found myself dwelling over every word and sometimes reading passages a second time because they were so good. Sometime it was little hard to bear with the gross out descriptions, but they still changed the pace and descriptions of the book.
The book is a definite for fans of European Literature. It shows life in War and Peace for little Oskar and his family. I must admit that I have taken German language and History classes so I do have a background in many of the subjects that Grass deals with in his novel. Some of the language or historical references might fall on deaf ears. Still the book is told from the point of view of a child, so it’s not too complicated.
I would recommend the book highly. It was a pleasure to read. The stories it told brought to life people and places from a time of violence and conflict. It brought German History to life through middle class people who were caught up in their countries troubles. It will remind anyone with a historical conscience that this is how it was. As Samuel Beckett has said “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” I feel that Oskar embodied that sentiment. He made do with what life gave him. He kept going. He didn’t get swept up into anything like the Hitler Youth. He made do with what he had. Just like the Germans did after WWII.







( )
  pgcharsk | Apr 29, 2020 |
DNF
  Terrie2018 | Feb 21, 2020 |
I enjoyed Gunter Grass' novel "The Tin Drum," both for the plot, which moved along at a nice brisk pace, and for writing, which was lively and vivid.

Set mostly in Danzig in World War II, the novel features our narrator Oskar, who says he decided to stop growing at the age of 3. He plays the drum incessantly as a sort of protest march about all he finds objectionable -- his parents' marriage, his two possible fathers, life growing up in a grocery store. He becomes locked up in a mental institution for a murder he did not commit (as opposed to the ones he did.)

I thought the book was clever without being annoyingly so. ( )
  amerynth | Dec 4, 2019 |
Big read. Classic and worth the read, just! ( )
  DannyKeep | Apr 18, 2019 |
Funny I missed rating and reviewing this jewel. This is the lodestar, the mandrake root, the intrepid ooze making friends in the lukewarm pools of primeval poetry. This was the point of departure. A hallowed book I finished in a laundromat. I almost can't remember my reading life before wee Oskar. Eels, fizz, post offices, onions and Dusters have littered my imagination seemingly forever. I wanted to read the new translation and likely will someday. My memories of my own grandmother now smell like butter.
( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (48 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Grass, GünterAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chmielik, TomaszTranslatorsecondary 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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For Anna Grass
First words
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.
Zugegeben: ich bin Insasse einer Heil- und Pflegeanstalt, mein Pfleger beobachtet mich, lässt mich kaum aus dem Auge; denn in der Tür ist ein Guckloch, und meines Pfleger Auge ist von jenem Braun, welches mich, den Blauäugigen, nicht durchschauen kann.
Quotations
Maria frightened Oskar with her hairy triangle.
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