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The Tin Drum Hardcover – November 10, 1999

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Hardcover, November 10, 1999
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (November 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375420576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375420573
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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, Günter 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 Günter 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 Günter Grass the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1999

More About the Author

Born in Danzig, Germany, in 1927, Günter Grass is a widely acclaimed author of plays, essays, poems, and numerous novels. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

Customer Reviews

Oskar, the dwarf jester, has a fine sense of humor; much of this book is very funny.
Roger Brunyate
I guarantee that, once you finish this book, you will never forget the time you spent with Oskar Matzerath.
Craig Clarke
The Tin Drum is one of my favorite novels and, I think, one of the great novels of the 20th Century.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Guillermo Maynez on February 6, 2003
Western literature is full of what Germans call "bildungsroman", that is, the story of a young man's (or woman's)intellectual and emotional growth, often told from the main character's own voice. This kind of novel has adopted innumerable shapes and styles through history, and certainly this one is, so far for me, the strangest and one of the best.
It is hard to summarize the plot, as it is mainly the diverse and extreme experiences of Oskar Matzerath's life. Born in 1924 in Danzig, itself a unique and troubled city, Oskar decides at age three not to grow up anymore. Or does he simply has an illness of the tyroid gland, as he hints at some point? It doesn't matter, precisely because that moment starts the style of the whole book: all the time, terrible things are happening to Oskar, to his family, to his city, to his nation and to his century, but we see everything only through the distorted glass of this unique character's view.
First he tells us about his ancestors and the life they led in pre-war German Poland. Then we know the story of his parents, the infidelity of his mother and other disturbing and often sordid events. His community starts to fall apart as the Nazis rise to power. Then the Nazis come and destroy the city, phisically and spiritually. Oskar spends the whole war in Danzig as well as wandering through France and Belgium as part of a grotesque midget-troupée. After the war, they flee Poland for Düsseldorf, where he is employed in very different jobs: as a tomb engraver, painters' model, jazz drum player. The chapter which describes the journey by train is simply horrible and scaring, as the chapter on his emotional disappointing is sad. The end is strange, confusing but full of hope.
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94 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I have been meaning to read this book since it came out in 1959, but only did so now. My reason for delaying was that the reviews I had read of the book made it sound unappealing to me. Why did I want to read the unrealistic ramblings of an insane dwarf?
Having been impressed with Mr. Grass's recent work, Crabwalk, I finally decided to give The Tin Drum a try. I'm glad I did. Let me explain why.
In my studies of the Nazi era, I was always struck by comments that observers from that time made about how banal the evil of it all was. Yet much of the propaganda from that period (such as The Triumph of the Will) that we can see today makes the Nazis seem like mythic figures. What were the observers trying to say? I finally felt like I understood the point through reading The Tin Drum. Reading about distant battles while living in Germany before the bombing became great seems a lot like reading about attacks on coalition troops in Iraq now. Going to party meetings seems a lot like how people here go to lodge meetings now.
In the first 100 pages, I kept wondering why Mr. Grass had chosen to write the novel in the form of an autobiography of an insane dwarf pretending to have a mental age of 3 who had been convicted of a murder he did not commit. Eventually, it hit me. He needed a narrator who could not be considered complicit in what the Nazis did, or we could not trust his voice. In addition, how can you portray banal evils as insane unless you see them through the eyes of an "insane" person who makes all too much sense? Once I accepted the brilliance (perhaps even the inevitability of his choice), I settled back and really began to enjoy the story.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 21, 2000
Echoing the rise and fall of the Third Reich through the eyes of the Peter Pan like Oskar Matzerath, Günter Grass' highly acclaimed novel, The Tin Drum paints a surreal and disturbing portrait of people in a time of great uncertainty. The story begins with Oskar's grandmother, Anna Koljaiczek, a woman who conceives Oskar's mother, Agnes, in a potato field encounter that can only be described as "bizarre." Agnes, herself, grows into a woman out-of-the-ordinary and in time, forms the hypotenuse of a strange love triangle that encompasses two men who love her equally: her husband, Alfred Matzerath and Jan Bronski, the biological father of young Oskar. Oskar, himself, is, from the very beginning, an extraordinary child. Even as a fetus, he refuses to be born until Agnes entices him out of her womb with the promise of a tin drum on his third birthday.
Oskar is born and Agnes keeps her promise. On the day he receives his red and white lacquered tin drum, Oskar makes a promise that rules his life for the next eighteen years: Observing the hypocritical nature of his German-Polish family, Oskar decides to stop growing and forever remain three years old. In an effort to accomplish this, he throws himself down the cellar stairs, an act that comes to haunt Alfred (he had left the door open). Oskar does manage to freeze himself in time and his tin drum becomes the symbol of his extreme youth as well as his weapon against adult intervention. It is when Alfred tries to take the drum away that Oskar discovers another unique talent: he can scream at such a high register that glass around the world shatters. At three years old, Oskar has learned the art of manipulation and control.
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