Author: Gunter Grass
Translator: Heechang Jang
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About This Book
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, Gunter 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
"When Gunter Grass published The Tin Drum in 1959, it was as if German literature had been granted a new beginning after decades of linguistic and moral destruction. Within the pages of this, his first novel, Grass re-created the lost world from which his creativity sprang: Danzig, his home town, as he remembered it from the years of his infancy before the catastrophe of war. Here he comes to grips with the enormous task of reviewing contemporary history by recalling the disavowed and the forgotten: the victims, losers, and lies that people wanted to forget because they had once believed in them. The unforgettable Oskar Matzerath is an intellectual whose critical approach is childishness, a one-man carnival, dadaism in action in everyday German provincial life just when this small world becomes involved in the sanity of the great world surrounding it. It is not too audacious to assume that The Tin Drum will become one of the enduring literary works of the twentieth century."
-- The Swedish Academy, awarding Gunter Grass the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1999
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