When my grandson Thomas visited last week, he headed straight for the tin drum I had bought to illustrate a discussion of The Tin Drum, the novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass. My friend Gloria and I led the discussion last month for our morning book group. Oskar, the main character in Grass’ novel, was three years old when he got a tin drum for his birthday. Thomas is almost three and the same size as Oskar, but the similarity ends there. Oskar was born in Gdansk, Poland in 1927, with his paternity and nationality in doubt. He observed the rise of the Nazis and the horrors of World War II, constantly beating his drum to try to make sense of crazy times. Thomas was born in Dallas in 2010 to warm, loving parents in a time of relative economic and political stability. Just as drums have universal appeal to little boys, The Tin Drum appeals to readers willing to tackle lengthy, imaginative books .
My friend Beatrice, who now lives in Berlin, introduced The Tin Drum, published in 1959, to my evening book group in 1999 and led a lively discussion informed by her German background. In 2009 a new 50th anniversary English translation by Breon Mitchell rendered many parts of this complex novel more clearly. This is a book worth reading again and again. Some in our group hated it; several characters and situations are not easy to love. Others joined me in appreciating its kaleidoscopic pageantry and Grass’ intimate view of a period so often portrayed by non-German writers.
As we prepared for the discussion, Gloria and I enjoyed watching the movie of The Tin Drum directed by Volker Schlöndorff and starring David Bennent as Oskar. The film won the 1979 Academy Award for best foreign language film, though 20 years later, it was briefly banned in Oklahoma as pornographic. Hardly. Here’s the English-language trailer:
And here is an outline of our discussion: