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Customer Review

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Tin Drum, 11 Oct. 2012
This review is from: The Tin Drum (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
The Tin Drum

`Granted: I am an inmate in a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there's a peephole in the door, and the keeper's eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me'. So starts Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum. Ostensibly, this remarkable book is an account of the invasion of Poland and France by Nazi Germany, but the vehicle that Grass chooses to use in his exposition is quite bizarre and mystifying. Oskar Matzerath, recounts the story to his keeper in a mental hospital. This might well be seen a rather tame or naÔve technique to use as a writing tool. But, when one is told of Oskar's dispositions the story becomes fantastical and bizarre.

Oskar, at the age of three, knowingly throws himself down a flight of stairs to outrage his mother, `my poor mama', and his father, `my presumptive father' - and promptly stops growing. He is an all-knowing , vindictive dwarf who plays a tin drum incessantly and obsessively. If the drum is withdrawn from him he screams - not an ordinary scream, but a scream which shatters glass far beyond any mortals ability.

The story is set in what was later to become Gdansk and at the time was the Free State of Danzig on the Baltic coast of Poland. As the Nazis advanced into Poland the Free State was defended more fiercely than the mainland and Oskar found himself entrapped in the siege of the Post Office, with his mother's lover - a coward who Oskar cruelly manipulates for his own ends. Oskar appears to have no fear of the peril he is in; it is as if he were invulnerable and external to the raid.

His compulsive drumming can summon the past with total recall. Any event he can recall, even his birth and the three one -hundred watt bulbs that shone as he entered the world. He can recount graphically and amusingly the conception of his mother. His power of drumming acts as a conduit for penetrating the past.

Oskar, hides behind a mask of babyhood, but has enormous insight into the psyche of people - he is fearless and calculating. This dwarf becomes involved with a local gang of youths and has little trouble in simply becoming their leader and continuing their bad work more effectively. He is the antithesis of good, yet one sees in him a desire in a greater purpose -one which transcends everyday preoccupations. He is striving towards a higher plane which, in a sense, he achieves always drumming, drumming, drumming. He induces in other people this ability to see into their past, and in so doing becomes an idol.

This is fantasy. Or is it?

One would expect the fantastical to amplify the reality - but it doesn't. The grotesque reality of invasion is told with Kafkan understatement and it is this which amplifies the reality, not the incredible

Is Oskar mad or is he feigning madness? Is the story an Orwellian double-think? Or, perhaps like Hamlet, he feigns madness so much that it is difficult to tell reality from insanity.
This is a complex interwoven tale, in which Oskar is quite unbelievable, yet, like Hamlet, could it be that in feigning madness Oskar has become mad? That is, the reality was so grotesque that he feigned madness to protect himself, and in so doing, becomes mad.

A O'Connell

September 2012
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Nov 2014 10:23:28 GMT
Simon M. says:
Well written write-up thank you

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Nov 2014 11:20:10 GMT
A.O'Connell says:
Many thanks, I'm pleased you enjoyed it.
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