The Tin Drum by Gunther Grass

March 28, 2014

the tin drum-001 Plot summary (from the publisher): The Tin Drum, one of the great novels of the twentieth century, was published in Ralph Manheim’s outstanding translation in 1959. It became a runaway bestseller and catapulted its young author to the forefront of world literature.
This fiftieth anniversary edition, translated by Breon
Mitchell, is more faithful to Grass’s style and rhythm, restores omissions, and reflects more fully the complexity of the original work.

After fifty years, The Tin Drum has, if anything, gained in power and relevance. All of Grass’s amazing evocations are still there, and still amazing: Oskar Matzerath, the indomitable drummer; his grandmother, Anna Koljaiczek; his mother, Agnes; Alfred Matzerath and Jan Bronski, his presumptive fathers. And Oskar’s midget friends—Bebra, the great circus master, and Roswitha Raguna, the famous somnambulist; Sister Scholastica and Sister Agatha, the Right Reverend Father Wiehnke, the Greffs, the Schefflers, Herr Fajngold, all Kashubians, Poles, Germans, and Jews—waiting to be discovered and rediscovered.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • There’s no denying that Oskar Matzerath is a memorable character. I despised him, it’s true; but even so, I won’t soon forget how he was born fully cognizant with adult comprehension; his red and white lacquered tin drums; his hunchback; his tiny stature; his penchant for getting involved in wholly absurd situations; his grandmother with the four skirts and lingering smell of rancid butter; his two presumptive fathers (both of whom he indirectly killed); his mother and her death by eels; and his singing voice that could shatter glass with such precision that Oskar amused himself by tempting window shoppers into petty theft. Any author’s job is to create memorable characters, and in this regard, Grass succeeded.
  • The opening line of the book was fantastic: “Granted: I am an inmate in a mental hospital…”


  • There was so much I disliked about this book that I can’t begin to list everything here. From Oskar himself, who I thought was incredibly annoying and lacking in any redemptive qualities at all, to the dumb adventures he embarked on, practically every minute spent reading this book was a severe trial to my patience. The only reason I even bothered to finish is because it’s on the Top 100 List.
  • I didn’t understand any of the symbolism in this book. Everything I’ve read about it says Oskar stands for Germany and his various travails are supposed to represent what the non-Nazi Germans went through in World War II. I read these interpretations BEFORE reading the book and STILL didn’t “get it.” I must be exceedingly dumb.


I have a feeling that The Tin Drum is one of those books that you either love or hate. I cannot imagine there being any middle ground with this type of work. Unfortunately, I come down squarely on the “hate” side of things. Although there were a few random lines or scenes that I enjoyed from the book, most of it was just very tiresome for me. I can appreciate how others, those that are able to decipher the symbolism and apply parallels to the happenings in the book to the struggles of the German people during WWII, would have an entirely different reaction. But The Tin Drum just wasn’t for me. I give it 1 star out of 5.

Leave a Reply