Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Review: The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
Most books you can read, analyze, and review, but some you just have to accept. The Tin Drum by Günter Grass is a book I had to take on its own terms.
The hero of this postwar German classic is Oscar Matzerath, who thought like an adult from the moment he was born. At his birth, he heard his mother exclaim that he would get a tin drum on his third birthday, while his father announced that the baby would someday take over the family grocery store. Having no interest in running a grocery store, baby Oscar determined that he would stop growing on his third birthday and remain forever a toddler with a tin drum. Which he did.
Oscar can also shatter glass with his voice, which he does in dozens of creative and destructive ways. (The scream singing and a glass shattering are reason enough to skip the movie adaptation.)
Oscar narrates his life story from an insane asylum where he is confined awaiting the outcome of an appeal of a criminal trial. The story begins with his grandmother rescuing and marrying an escaping arsonist, continues through childhood with his two "presumptive fathers" (his mother's husband and her lover), follows Oscar as he tours with a troupe of performing dwarfs during World War II, to his later role as the leader of a youth gang, and finally his career as a jazz drummer in an avant-garde club where the customers eat raw onions.
So, yes, The Tin Drum is a crazy book, with so much imagery and so much going on and so many ideas swirling around that it is impossible to make sense out of it. It's a book only a Ph.D. candidate could love. I had to just let it roll on, laughing at the funny bits – and there are many – mulling over the ideas that grabbed me, and letting go of the rest of it.
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I've had a copy of The Tin Drum on my TBR shelf forever, but it daunted me. The whole notion of German literature daunts me.
But I saw that my library had an unabridged audio version of the new translation of this Nobel Laureate's classic, and decided to go that route. I never would have gotten through the paper version. I highly recommend the new audiobook from Blackstone Audio. The reader, Paul Michael Garcia, was over-the-top good.