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.


If you would like your review of The Tin Drum listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


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. 


  1. This is one of my favorite German Lit books from my days as a PhD student, so yes, you may be right about that. I just loved Oscar, but this is part of a trilogy - Dogs Years and Cat and Mouse follow and are almost as good. Oscar is such a delicious unreliable narrator.

    How did you like the eel part? They have turned my stomach ever since I read the book.

  2. The eel thing was awful but didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. I was kind of fascinated after I got over the first image.

    I don't know if I am ready for the rest of the trilogy. I might need a break.

  3. I first saw the movie sometime in high school and thought it was, well, odd. Later after college when I went on a "now I'm going to read what *I* want to read" binge I finally read the book. Crazy thing is I rather enjoyed it.
    By the way, I LOVED your opening sentence to your review! If it's OK, I'm going to quote you in a future review.

  4. This definitely sounds like a book I'd be interested in. I love how you reviewed it. Any book that makes you laugh here and there is worth a look!


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