Sunday, October 3, 2010

This week I have been mostly reading: The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass

I thought I'd kick this whole enterprise off by bringing your attention to a book I have been reading this week entitled 'The Tin Drum'. The book is written by a German author called Gunter Grass who received the Nobel Prize for literature for this and his other novels. Now, I haven't read any of his other works but if the only product of his writing career had been this novel then he would've been a worthy recipient of the prize for this alone.
The novel is the fictional memoir of Oskar Matzerath, a severely deformed man who is writing his life story from a mental hospital. It charts the history of his family from the moment his grandmother was impregnated by a Polish arsonist who she was sheltering from the police under her expansive skirts while sat in a potato field, to the events resulting in Oskars incarceration in the mental hospital.
Oskar is born in the free city of Danzig in 1924 with a complete awareness of his surroundings and with mental faculties completely intact. On hearing at his birth that his 'presumptive' father Alfred has plans of making him follow in his footsteps in the family Grocer business, Oskar quickly becomes disillusioned with what the next 60 years on the planet has to offer him and finds the only saving grace appears to be his mothers promise that she will buy him a tin drum on his 3rd birthday.
On receipt of his drum, Oskar, who has no interest in the cruel and pointless grown up world that surrounds him, decides to stop growing completely and live his life as a permanent 3 year old who just simply won't stop drumming.
When his thoroughly drummed out family try to take his drum from him they discover he possesses the novel ability to shatter glass with his piercing screams, which he does when anyone tries to lay a hand on his precious drum.
No-one pays much attention to young Oskar as he drums his way through the not too clandestine affair his mother is having with her cousin Jan (who he also suspects might be his real father) and the rise of Hitler and National Socialism.
The book highlights the cruelty and absurdity of the rise and fall of Nazi Germany through the eyes of Oskar as he undertakes a dizzying array of adventures with a multitude of unforgettable characters including Nazi propaganda specialist Bebra, the circus dwarf, Oskars first love Maria who seduces him with some strategically placed sherbet and Klepp the rotund jazz flutist who forms a band with Oskar after the war.
Oskar isn't the innocent 3 year old through all this mind you, he has a sinister streak and portrays himself as both Satan and Jesus throughout the story.
This book caused some controversy on its release in 1959 and was classed as blasphemous pornography (Oskar does have a surprisingly active sex life) but I would simply class it as a work of genius which portrays the German people who took their part in the atrocities of the war as what they were, just normal everyday people who chose to ignore what they had become a part of, Oskar opted out by deciding to stay 3 foot tall and evoking all his emotions through his drum.
Now there are some scenes in this book I'll probably take with me to my grave, the chapter when Oskar and his family see a longshoreman catching eels using a dismembered horses head is one of them along with the poignant moment when the Jewish shop owner that sells Oskars precious drums commits suicide when the Nazi's ransack his shop. What with the sherbet infused girl on dwarf action as well, you're probably thinking someone should make a film of this. Too late, they already have:

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