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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Without a doubt, The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass is a classic of Western Literature. Sardonic in tone and exuberant in its condemnation of the late 20th century world and its values, The Tin Drum is a picture of a world in upheaval. Told through the eyes of dwarf, it was Grass's first novel and it catapulted him to fame.
The Tin Drum is a portrait of German society from the 1930s to the 1950s. The narrator of the story is Oskar Matzerath. He tells his story from the confines of an insane asylum where he is being held for a murder he did not commit. The fact that it is Oskar who is sane and the world that is mad is inconsequential because this is a world where values are inverted, the tragic is comic and the insane are sane. The narrative technique of the novel is based on the surrealistic style of the earlier German writer Franz Kafka and is closely related to the magic realism we find in the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie. Unnatural occurrences, essentially metaphoric events, are written as natural occurrences.
Born in the free city of Danzig on the Baltic coast, it is on his third birthday that Oskar makes a momentous decision. By sheer force of will, he decides he is not going to grow any more. Already possessing the full mental faculties of an adult, Oskar is complete inside and out, free from the constraints and patterns of the rest of the world by being able to chose his own destiny. It is this assertion of Oskar's individuality over what the state or society expects him to be that makes The Tin Drum a modern classic andsucha strong statement against a German society that has in its history so blindly conformed to a state-sponsored notion of thought and decorum.
The later period of Oskar's life is crammed with absurdist details: the death of his mother from a diet of fish, a diet started after witnessing a horrible scene of eels being pulled from the head of a dead horse. Another, the death of Oskar's friend Herbert Truczinski as he attempts to make love to a wooden ship figurehead. Finally, there is the death of his father and he tries to hide his Nazi affiliation from the invading Russians by swallowing a pin that Oskar has forced into his hand: each event in this period being dramatically metaphoric. After the war, Oskar moves to Dusseldorf in West Germany. It is there that he is charged with he murder of Sister Dorothea Kongetter. Oskar submits to being found insane and atones for guilt not truly his.
The Tin Drum is a mock epic of Germany, through rise, fall, and rebirth; a chronicle of both Western Europe's, and the world's, madness as it convulses and becomes inverted, where tragedy and comedy live intertwined. It is a masterful world of surrealism, which will shock, amuse, and cause one to reflect.
— Larry Abuhoff