The Tin Drum is a fictional autobiography of Oskar Matzerath, a 30 year old dwarf, mental patient, and accused murderer. Confined to a bed in a mental hospital, Oskar begins his dark tale with the saga of his maternal grandparents: Anna Bronski in her four layers of dirt brown sack skirts, born and raised on a potato farm in Kashubia, Poland, and Joseph Koljaiczek a serial arsonist who managed to beget Oskar’s mama before running from the law, never to be seen again. From there the story jumps ahead to introduce Oskar’s mama as a grown woman, Oskar’s father Alfred Matzerath, a citizen of the German Reich, and Oskar’s mama’s cousin and lover Jan Bronski, a Polish Postal worker who Oskar swears is in fact his real father.
Oskar is born in 1924 in Danzig Poland and at age 3 he stops growing. This is his story – viewed through the eyes of a mentally unstable dwarf: skewed, exaggerated, sometimes embellished with outrageous observations, superstition, and magical realism. Suffering from rejection and hampered by this vile deformity Oskar convinces himself his stunted growth is self imposed to escape the “bourgeois milieu”. He grabs onto a toy red and white tin drum which becomes his security blanket, his pacifier. Seldom speaking, the drum remains his primary form of communication throughout most of his childhood, along with a piercing scream that is powerful enough to shatter glass.
His three foot stature which lasts through his teens (he does eventually grow a few inches), misleads everyone to believe he has the mind of a child when in fact, Oskar is very intelligent: learning to read Goethe’s Elective Infinities and Rasputin, contemplating philosophy, religion, mythology, and the supernatural, and much like Faust he makes a pact with the devil. His behavior ranges from naughty tantrums and vandalism to evilly desecrating the holy shrine of a church….and perhaps murder.
The happiest years of his life seem to be a short span of time during WW II when he travels through France and Belgium with a troupe of dwarfs entertaining the military.
The Tin Drum is one of the most unusual narratives I’ve ever read. Each new chapter brings the unknown: colorful descriptions, eclectic characters, and beyond your imagination scenes and incidents. Oskar’s life reflects the stark reality of the war’s atrocities and devastation; poverty, depression, guilt, haunting fear, crushing ennui, and death.
Gunter Grass won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999. A classic, rated 4.5 Stars.
I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Books rated 1, I seldom finish; books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.