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4.3 out of 5 stars105
4.3 out of 5 stars
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I wanted to read the book before I saw the film. I came to the book blind, knowing it had a reputation, but unaware of its content or style. For those equally ignorant of the book, the story concerns the life of Oskar, born between the wars in a world where Pole rubs side-by-side with German, and whose physical constitution means that he remains the size of a child. And as a child, he also commences a lifelong predilection for playing a tin drum.

We follow his life, his actions, thoughts, and feelings through the 1930s, through the Second World War, and into the start of the West German economic miracle. Family, neighbours, friends, and enemies and his interactions with them fill the pages. That brief description of the gist of the novel might make it sound as if it is a story of depressing times. It is not. Yes, there is tragedy, but the work is also suffused with a wry humour as Oskar comes to terms with men’s (and women’s) real intentions, as well as cultivating his own.

Grass soon establishes his approach by narrating the thoughts and actions of his character in the first-person singular, and the third person – and even the second person. And all often in the same sentence. Here’s an example that also gives a feel of the subject-matter: “… it would never occur to me to set myself up as a resistance fighter because I disrupted six or seven rallies and threw three or four parades out of step with my drumming … Did Oskar drum for the people? Did he … take the action in hand and provoke the people out in front of the rostrum to dance? Did he confound and perplex? Did he … break up brown rallies on a drum which though red and white was not Polish? Yes, I did all that. But does that make me, as I lie in this mental hospital, a Resistance Fighter? I must answer in the negative, and I hope that you too, you who are not inmates of mental hospitals, will regard me as nothing more than an eccentric who, for private and what is more esoteric reasons, … rejected the cut and colour of the uniforms, the rhythm and tone of the music normally played on rostrums, and therefore drummed up a bit of protest on the instrument that was a mere toy.”

Like all good novels, Grass’s work acts on many levels. Putting aside the symbolism, he mixes into the text considerations of philosophy and history: Rasputin as Dionysius and Goethe as Apollo. And there is also much to marvel at on the literary level. For instance, a bullet fired is a “lead projectile” on a “death-dealing change of habitat”.

That Oskar – and Grass – plays with his readers is also a boon. At one point we have eleven of the 565 pages in the form of a theatre script. And what are we to make of these words of Oskar? “I have just reread the last paragraph. I am not too well satisfied, but Oskar’s pen ought to be, for writing tersely and succinctly, it has managed, as terse, succinct accounts so often do, to exaggerate and mislead, if not to lie.” And yet ‘Oskar’ writes in a convincing and direct non-nonsense role. Yet whilst the reader is compelled to give Oskar the benefit of the doubt, it is clear that the history is troubled by odd inconsistencies and just downright plain lies.

I enjoyed Oskar’s company (most of the time), and felt I understood his outlook on life (most of the time). It’s not the easiest novel to read, but a good reader likes a good challenge, so long as he gets paid well for his labours. I wonder, though, as I open the DVD packaging, how they have translated Oskar’s journey into film …
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on 3 January 2010
I was initially surprised to see that there was a new translation of one of my top three novels of the 20th century...why? It was done in conjunction with the author, 50 years after the book's first publication, and the introduction makes the point that great works of literature need to be re-translated for new generations of readers. Once I thought of the different translations of War & Peace I'd read, I agreed.

So I read the new translation, and I wasn't disappointed. It's more alive, more accessible, less stodgy than the old one (which is a good translation for its time). I dipped into the old one from time to time and the new one read better. The translator has taken great care with rendering aspects of Grass' German style into English so that we can get a closer feel for the original. And some small details which were originally not included (censored?) also appear, which for a purist is justification enough.

If you've never read the book, or if, like me, you're reading it for the nth time, I think this is a great new version of an astonishing novel.
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on 11 April 2006
Firstly, let's clear this up:
Quoted: "Richard Barbieri's fretless bass playing"
Au contraire! Mr Barbieri was the synth-head who really did the business here, the bass work being down to the great Mick Karn.
Put simply, this is one of THE albums of the eighties. Both the musicianship, the creativity and the overall production of Tin Drum are high watermarks for anyone wanting to write an album that's as classic, imaginative, modern and accessible as anyone would wish. They'd spent what felt to be an eternity inching towards the songs here but the road had been paved by both Quiet Life (1979) and the excellent Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980). Indeed, the years 79-81 were intensely creative for Japan and they became huge just before this, their swansong, was released.
So what are the songs like? They're great! Although not great in number, the songs are finely turned-out and Japan creatively were firing on all cylinders which is ironic considering the tensions that existed between Sylvian and Karn at the time, Karn losing his partner to his former best friend as the album was being written.
There isn't a weak track here: all three of the singles (the intensely-atmospheric 'Ghosts', the wry 'Visions Of China' and the sublime 'Cantonese Boy') are here but album tracks such as 'Talking Drum' are of an equally high standard. It's like a tailor setting out to design a handfull of brilliantly-designed, classic-yet-modern suits and excelling at the task, incorporating subtle features whilst the overall cut and style turns heads everywhere they were worn.
Someone once described Japan's latter output as 'bonzai music' as in 'small and beautiful' but it's a lot more besides. This was Japan's effective farewell, although they reunited in 1992 to record the Rain Tree Crow album. Tin Drum was really their final word and it's a masterpiece. Buy it.
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on 18 February 2011
This novel is about a Oskar, born with a fully developed (albeit partial, seemingly a bit autistic) grip on the world about him, who does not grow past his third birthday, drums and "singshatters" glass, and lives through pre-war Danzig, war-time Danzig and post-war Danzig in the three section of the book.

The plot is highly episodic/picaresque; the individual episdose very memorable, whether this is Oskar eating an appalling soup cooked by young children, or the death of his mother following a surfeit of seafood. On the cover of the hardback come praises from John Irving and Salman Rushdie, both of whom have learned from Grass' techniques.

The style demands concentration and patience: the new translator explains that he has tried to mirror the sentence lengths of the German original, and to make the English hard going where the original German is hard going and not to smooth out the reading experience.

It takes a long time to work through the 600 plus pages. But this is quite unique - very impressive - and if it appeals more to the head than the heart, it's very well worth persevering. I was sorry to reach the end.

Highly recommended.
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This reissue of Tin Drum- Japan's most popular LP featuring surprise hit single Ghosts comes with a wonderful 24-page booklet, a deluxe appearance and various photos, including some from Steve Jansen. It also comes with an additional disc comprising The Art of Parties session- two alternate take of TAOP plus Life Without Buildings, as well as the single version of Ghosts.
The album itself is still wonderful, though the Japan sound was pretty much defined on Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)- here the music is oriental, as the lyrics were influenced by a collection of photos of Communist China (according to the Black Vinyl, White Powder memoir of Simon Napier Bell, then manager of Japan). The Art of Parties gets straight to the point- a clipped sythetic sound that might have been Roxy Music if they hadn't embraced MOR. Talking Drum is even better- an underrated Japan track which has the same electronic-country feel of My New Career; this seagues into the Top Five hit single Ghosts. Who'd believe that a minimal electronic piece indebted to John Cage and Henrik Ibsen would be their biggest hit? As with 1980's Burning Bridges, Nightporter & Taking Islands in Africa, Sylvian dispenses with the band- notably Mick Karn's fretless bass. This might seem absurd, but Sylvian was going for the song, rather than adhering to the band formula- this was Sylvian's year zero and the pathway to his interesting solo career (see tracks like Bamboo Music, Backwaters & The Stigma of Childhood to see where this lead; also 1999's Godman referred to this!). The light comes back in with the Jansen/Sylvian-composed Canton- wonderful world music that fails to explain why any of this lot weren't employed to provide a film soundtrack...Still Life in Mobile Homes (er, title?) remains rather too indebted to Yellow Magic Orchestra- possibly the least track here. Visions of China sees Jansen and Sylvian create another lovely pop song- something that Sylvian would veer away from (though Jansen's 1987 album with Barbieri as The Dolphin Brothers (?????) would see the not dissimilar Shining). Mick Karn's distinctive fretless bass fares as well on Sons of Pioneers- a vast opaque song with sinister undertones; finally the brilliant Cantonese Boy concludes the album. This is the apex of their obssession with Japan and the Far East- "Cantonese Boy/bang your tin drum!"- it's a fantastic pop song that I wish someone NOW would cover: Mao's revolution set to 80s synths and sequencers?
Tin Drum is just one of the many great reissues of Japan/Sylvian material surfacing from Virgin- as great a reminder as the recent Blemish is, that Sylvian was and remains a major talent.
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on 29 April 2004
Japan's "Tin Drum" remains one of the great albums of the early eighties,and it brings back many fond memories to this listener. This new Virginremaster is a real treat, with nicely cleaned up sound quality, greatpackaging with some very arty new photographs in a separate companionbooklet and the bonus "Art of Parties" EP containing the four other tracksput out around the time of the album. My only gripe about this, nice asthe EP is, is that it would have all fitted onto a single disc, whichsaves a lot of fiddling about on the train to work.
Enough grumbling - the music is superb and sounds as fresh today as it didthen, as Japan move on from the excellent "Gentlemen Take Polaroids" albumto take in Eastern themes, most notably in "Visions of China", "Canton"and the superb "Cantonese Boy". The atmospheric "Ghosts" is surely one ofthe strongest singles of the decade, paving the way for David Sylvian'smore ambitious solo works, but all of the tracks on "Tin Drum" are verystrong. The Art of Parties remix single is also particularly fine, and itis nice to see this on CD properly at last. They'd come along way sincethe proto-garage of their early albums.
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on 30 December 2011
my father bought this for our 17 month old son for Christmas and he loved it! The only problem is by 28th December the drum had broken. Our little boy had done no more than hit it as it is meant to be used but after 3 days the blue rim was all buckled and the skin has come off. We now have a disappointed little boy who is waiting for us to try and fix it or buy him a new one of better quality! A waste of money.
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on 29 August 2011
This new translation carries a much better feel for modern English syntax and idiom, and so improves an already excellent novel; bringing out humour and nuance that lay buried or obscured by the occasionally clumsy language of the previous 'Mannheim' English language edition. To which I must add that translation is not easy, especially when the style of the original is as dense, poetic and culturally specific as this. Herr Grass' work is unique and inimitable.
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on 7 May 2008
Being a big Lewis taylor fan I recently bought his american-produced album "Stoned" and the last track on the album (which is not listed in the sleeve notes and on all my equipment won't play unless you press play at what seems like the end of the album) there was a song named "ghosts" which is my all time favourite song by Lewis. Imagine my surprise when my fiancee showed me some old vinyl records that she had as a teenager and 'lo and behold there was a track called Ghosts on an EP by Japan so I just had to play it and, yes you've guessed it, one and the same! I was never a fan of Japan when they were current as I dismissed them as being a bunch of pretentious poseurs, an opinion based primarily on their appearance, but now I have mellowed with age I really like this album finding it refreshingly different to current genres with such strong atmosphere and totally original musicality. Despite other bands of that era not being being to my taste this is now one of my favourite albums.
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on 31 August 2014
As a lifelong heavy rock fan why would I want anything to do with this? Probably because it's superb. Like many, Ghosts blew me away with it's eerie simplicity, and so I bought the album and wasn't disappointed. The only downside is I can't play my air guitar to it at all. Never mind!
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