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The Tin Drum (2015)

The Tin Drum (2015)
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3.95 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0099483505 (ISBN13: 9780099483502)
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English
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vintage
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The Tin Drum (2015)
The Tin Drum (2015)

About book: تنبيه: فيما يأتي كشف لأحداث الرواية.الطبل الصفيح قرأت الرواية ومن ثم شاهدت الفيلم الألماني الذي صنع منها سنة 1979 م، وحاز على أوسكار أفضل فيلم أجنبي، وقام بدور أوسكار فيه (دايفد بينيت) وأخرجه المخرج الألماني فولكر شلوندرف، فلذا سأتحدث عن الرواية والفيلم معا ً. في البداية علي أن أعترف بأن القراءة لغونتر غراس متعبة، فخلاف أن الرواية تتمدد في نسختها العربية على 687 صفحة، تندر فيها الحوارات، وهذا يعني بنيان متراص يرويه لنا بأسلوبين (أوسكار ماتسرات) بطل الرواية وصاحب الطبول الصفيحية – لم يكن طبلا ً واحدا ً كما سنرى -، الأسلوب الأول هو السرد بضمير المتكلم أو الشخص الأول، وفي وسط الجملة ستتفاجئ بأن السرد انتقل إلى الحديث بضمير الغائب أو الشخص الثالث – ولكنه ليس ثالثا ً في هذه الحال، فنحن لازلنا مع أوسكار وسنغفر له هذا اللعب السردي حالما نتعرف عليه -، خلاف هذا كله، يرهقنا غونتر لأنه يأخذنا إلى مكان متغير جغرافيا ً، وفترة تائهة في الزمن، فالرواية تبدأ وتدور أغلب أحداثها في مدينة (دانتسغ) التي كانت حرة، ومن ثم ألمانية، ومن ثم بولندية باسم (غدانسك)، أما الفترة فهي ممتدة من 1899 م وحتى 1954 م، أي عندما يبلغ بطلنا الثلاثين، ويتوقف عن الرواية، وكما نرى هي فترة حاسمة في التاريخ الألماني تتناول حربين، ومرحلة البناء بعد الحرب العالمية الثانية، لا يكتفي غونتر بكل هذا، بل يتبع في روايته تقنية الواقعية السحرية، وهو ما سنلاحظه عندما نتحدث عن أحداث الرواية.أحداث الرواية تنقسم الرواية إلى ثلاثة كتب، يتكون كل كتاب من عدد من الفصول والتي تحمل عناوين دالة على محتوى الفصول، الفيلم يركز فقط على الكتابين الأول والثاني ويتجاهل الكتاب الثالث !!! تبدأ الرواية بـ "أعترف بأنني نزيل مصحة للأمراض العقلية"، وهذه الافتتاحية رغم جاذبيتها إلا أنها تجعلنا متوجسين منذ البداية في أخذ هذا الراوية على محمل الجد، وهو توجس سيتضاعف عندما نواجه الأحداث التي لا يمكن قبولها وتمريرها، ونكون عندها حائرين هل ما حدث حدث فعلا ً؟ أم أنها نسخة أوسكار الشخصية من الأحداث، وأن هناك نسخة أخرى سنسمعها فيما بعد؟ لن نخرج من هذه السلطة الأوسكارية إلا في مرتين نادرتين، المرة الأولى ستكون في فصل (نمو في عربة الشحن) وهو فصل سيرويه برونو مراقب أوسكار في المستشفى، ولكنه سيروي هذه الأحداث بتوجيه من أوسكار، فلذا هذا ليس إلا تحررا ً جزئيا ً، أما المرة الثانية فستكون في (الترام الأخير) والذي سيرويه فيتلار صديق أوسكار، والذي شاركه بعض الأحداث المتأخرة. إذن نحن مع راوية لا يوثق به تماما ً، ولكننا نقبل به مؤقتا ً، فيفترض بالروائي أن يساعد القارئ في تبيان موثوقية رواته مع تصاعد الأحداث وتواليها، فقط إذا كانت هناك حاجة لذلك في الحبكة. يأخذنا أوسكار إلى تاريخ سابق لمولده، إلى عام 1899 م حيث كانت جدته (آن برونسكي) جالسة في حقل كاشوبي، تشوي بطاطسها، وترتدي ثيابها الأربعة التي سيعود إليها الراوي كلما استدعى الجدة إلى سرده، على مقربة منها تجري عملية مطاردة لمشعل حرائق يدعى يوسف كولياجك، يصل إليها هذا الرجل ويجد مأمنه تحت أثوابها الأربعة، ويبحث عنه مطاردوه في سلة البطاطس، وفي أكوام القش، ومن ثم يولون بينما يستغل كولياجك هذا موقعه، ويحول الجدة إلى أم – رغم أن الابنة (آغنس) التي ستنتج عن هذا، ستنفي فيما بعد أنها كانت وليدة ذلك الحقل الكاشوبي -، في الفيلم تم تصوير هذا المشهد، ولكن بشكل جعله يبدو كوميديا ً !!! هذا العش سيستمر حتى 1913 م، عندما تنكشف في ظروف معينة هوية الجد، مشعل الحرائق التي حاول إخفائها، عندها سيقوم بمحاولة هروب تنتهي باختفاءه تحت الماء، وهو ما سيجعل البعض يفترض غرقه، بينما سيقول البعض الآخر بأنه نجا، وهرب إلى أمريكا حيث صار تاجرا ً كبيرا ً هناك – في الفيلم تم تجاهل كل القصة التي نسجها غونتر حول الجد وهروبه، وتم تصويرها بمشهد صغير وسريع -. مع الفصل التالي تبدأ أهم ملامح الرواية في التشكل، فيضاف إلى الجدة (آن برونسكي) وابنتها آغنس، يان برونسكي ابن الخال فنسنت، والذي تربطه علاقة عاطفية وجسدية بابنة عمته، والتي تتزوج مع ذلك الألماني (ألفريد ماتسيرات) صاحب متجر لبيع بضائع المستعمرات، ويكون أوسكار ابن هذا الزواج، رسميا ً على الأقل، فأوسكار ذاته لم يحدد من يكون والده الحقيقي. كما تتحدد في هذا الفصل بداية علاقة أوسكار بطبله، فهو يقول بأن والده قال وهو واقف على مهده "إنه ولد، وسيستلم المتجر في المستقبل"، بينما كان وعد الأم مختلفا ً "إذا بلغ أوسكار سن الثالثة فسيحصل على طبل"، هذا الوعد الذي يقول أوسكار أنه سمعه، وأنه ما جعله يبقى ولا يعود إلى رحم أمه. هذه العلاقة لا نفهمها جيدا ً حتى نعيشها، فرغم أن الرواية تحمل اسم الطبل الصفيح، ورغم ما يقوله أوسكار عن هذا الوعد بالطبل الذي سمعه في ساعاته الأولى على الأرض، إلا أننا لا نفهم تغلغل هذا الطبل، إلا عندما يستلمه أوسكار في عيد ميلاده الثالث، ويبدأ بالتطبيل عليه وهو تطبيل لن يتوقف حتى نهاية الرواية، سيطبل أوسكار ويحطم عشرات الطبول الصفيحية، وسيظل متعلقا ً بهذا الطبل الطفولي من الصفيح، وحتى يفعل ذلك، حتى تبقى له هذه المتعة ولا تزول، وحتى لا يلج عالم الكبار غير المفهوم، يقرر أن يتوقف عن النمو، وأن يظل بجسد طفل ذي ثلاثة أعوام، وحتى يفعل هذا من دون أن يثير شبهات أحد، يقفز من سلم القبو، ليوفر لمن حوله راحة التفسير "أوسكار توقف عن النمو عندما سقط من سلم القبو" – كقراء سنتساءل هل يمكن أن نقبل نحن بما يقوله أوسكار؟ أم أننا سنلجأ إلى التفسير ذاته، بأنه سقط من سلم القبو في طفولته، وأنه الآن يصوغ لنا هذه الحكاية عن إرادته لهذا التوقف عن النمو؟ -، التوقف عن النمو يكفل لأوسكار طفولة مديدة، ولكن ما الذي يكفل له الاحتفاظ بالطبل وعدم انتزاعه منه؟ يكتشف أوسكار موهبة جديدة في نفسه، صوت يمكنه أن يكسر الزجاج، يستخدمه أوسكار في كل مرة يحاول فيها أحد أخذ الطبل منه، يستخدمه مع معلمة الصف التي حاولت أخذ الطبل، مما يكلفها نظارتها، ويكفل أوسكار مسيرته التعليمية، ولكنه يستبدلها بمعلمين اثنين راسبوتين وغوته، حيث يجد عند سيدة تسكن في الحي كتابين أحدهما عنوانه (راسبوتين والنساء)، والآخر كتاب لغوته، وهما كتابين سيعلمانه الأبجدية، مع أشياء أخرى، وهم تعلم سيقوم به أوسكار بسرية، مع أدعاء بالجهل. تأخذنا الرواية بعد هذا إلى العلاقة المحتدمة بين الأم وابن خالتها يان، وتعرف أوسكار على قزم غريب يدعى (بيبرا) في سيرك، وهو قزم يخبر أوسكار بأنه هو توقف نموه أيضا ً في العاشرة من عمره، وأن عمره الآن 53 عاما ً، ويخبره بكلمات تشبه النبؤة عن قدوم النازية، حيث تظهر في الفصل التالي بعض اجتماعاتهم، وينضم والد أوسكار (ألفرد ماتسيرات) للحزب النازي، بينما يقوم أوسكار مستخدما ً طبله بتخريب بعض الاجتماعات، كما يقوم بإغواء الناس، حيث يقف في الليل قريبا ً من واجهات المحلات، ويشك بصوته الزجاج أمام العابرين، ليرى هل يسرقون أم يمضون في طريقهم، ثم تموت والدة أوسكار بعد رحلة إلى الشاطئ شاهدت فيها رجلا ً يستخدم رأس حصان ليصيد الحنكليس أو ثعبان الماء، وهو مشهد جعلها بعد أيام تأكل السمك بكثافة، وتتقيأ حتى الموت. يتعرف أوسكار فيما بعد على روزفيتا وهي امرأة قزمة صديقة لبيبرا، والتي ستكون له علاقة بها فيما بعد، كما يرافق هربرت تروجنسكي ابن جارتهم في عمله إلى المتحف الذي يوجد به تمثال نيوبا العجيب، وهي إحدى أجمل القصص القصيرة الملفوفة هنا وهناك في هذا العمل الضخم، تبدأ الحملة ضد اليهود، ويقتل فيها ماركوس اليهودي صاحب محل الألعاب الذي كانت أمه آغنيس تودعه عنده في غرامياتها مع يان، ثم يقتل يان بعد ذلك في معركة البريد البولندي، وهي معركة حقيقية، تعتبر أول معركة في الحرب العالمية الثانية. في كلا الوفاتين نلمح لوما ً يوجه إلى أوسكار، فجدته تقول بأن ما قاد الأم إلى الجنون والموت، هو تطبيل أوسكار، أما في مقتل يان والده الافتراضي، فهو قد قتل بسبب ذهاب أوسكار إليه طالبا ً لطبل جديد، وهو مشوار انتهى بهما إلى البريد البولندي، وبحبكة جميلة افترق طريقهما بعد المعركة، يان إلى الإعدام والدفن في مقبرة مجهولة، وأوسكار بطبل جديد !!! تدخل بعد هذا ماريا تروجنسكي، وهو دخول مثير وسبب أزمة للرواية والفيلم، فماريا ابنة جارتهم، تبدأ في العمل في المنزل ومساعدة ماتسيرات وابنه المسكين، يقع أوسكار في حبها، وتكون له معها لحظات حميمة، تم تصويرها في الفيلم، وهو ما جعل الفيلم محرما ً في عدد من الدول، وموصوفا ً بأنه منحل، ويصور الجنس مع الأطفال، لا تكتفي ماريا بهذا النشاط، بل يجدها أوسكار مع ألفريد عندما يعود ذات يوم إلى المنزل، وقريبا ً من لحظة الذروة، وحالما يحاول ألفريد الخروج، يقفز عليه أوسكار ويمنعه من ذلك، وتكون نتيجة هذا طفل ذكر يسمونه كورت، ويعتبره الجميع شقيق أوسكار، ما عدا أوسكار الذي يعتبره ابنه بكل اقتدار بل يخطط لمنحه طبلا ً حالما يبلغ الثالثة. يلتقي أوسكار من جديد مع بيبرا وروزفيتا، ولكن بقيافة جديدة، حيث يعملان مع عدد من الأقزام على الترفيه عن الجنود الألمان على جبهات الحرب، ويرافقهما أوسكار بعد الإلحاح إلى النورماندي، محطة الترفيه التالية، حيث تقتل روزفيتا عند نزول الحلفاء. نشاهد بعد عودة أوسكار الفوضى التي تعم المدينة، حيث عصابات الشبان، والتي تصطدم إحداها بأوسكار قبل أن يتزعمها، ويقودها في هجوم على الكنيسة، ويأتي الاحتلال الروسي للمدينة، ويموت ماتسيرات في القبو برصاص الجنود الروس، ولا ينجو أوسكار من اللوم هنا أيضا ً، فهو الذي وضع شارة النازية التي حاول ماتسيرات إخفائها في يد المسكين على حين غفلة، مما جعله يحاول ابتلاعها، ومن ثم الاختناق بها، والموت بالرصاص. في لحظات دفن ماتسيرات، يفاجئنا أوسكار بترديده عبارة، هل يتوجب علي؟ أم لا يتوجب علي؟ وهي حيرة ينهيها برمي الطبل في قبر ماتسيرات، ويقرر عندها أن ينمو من جديد، وهذا القرار الغريب والمفاجئ، يرافقه حجر ضرب رأس أوسكار أرسله كورت، وهذا ما سيضعنا في حيرة أخرى، هل كان الحجر هو ما أعاده للنمو؟ أم أنه قراره الشخصي كما يقول، يذهب أوسكار مع ماريا وكورت في عربة شحن إلى دوسلدورف، في فصل يحمل عنوان (نمو في عربة الشحن) ويرويه برونو مساعده في المصحة كما قلنا، وهنا ينتهي الكتاب الثاني والفيلم، ولكن حكاية أوسكار لم تنتهي بعد. حيث نراه وقد نمى قليلا ً، وفقد جسد الطفل، واستبدله بجسد شاب، لكنه جسد مشوه يحمل حدبة على ظهره، ونراه وهو يعمل مرة كموديل للفانين الشباب، يرسمون جسده العاري المشوه، ومرة في مقبرة يصنع شواهد القبور، ونشاهد ميله الغريب إلى الممرضات، ومحاولته الفاشلة بناء علاقة مع ممرضة تسكن قبالته في العمارة تدعى دوروتيا، ونهاية هذه المحاولة عندما تغادر العمارة بسببه، طلبه ماريا للزواج ورفضها ذلك، لقاءه بكليب والذي سيصير صديقا ً له وسيكونان معا ً فرقة جاز، ينضم إليهم رجل ثالث، ويعزفون جميعا ً في حانة تدعى (قبو البصل)، وهي قصة جميلة أخرى ملفوفة، وقد انتزعها غراس فيما بعد وكتبها كقصة مستقلة، ومن ثم تركه للفرقة بسبب خلافه مع صاحب الحانة، ولقاءه مع بيبرا من جديد، والذي صار يملك شركة، تتولى تنظيم جولات تطبيل لأوسكار، تعود عليه بالشهرة والمال، ومن ثم يفقد أوسكار هذا كله عندما يموت بيبرا، ومن ثم تقترب الرواية من نهايتها، حيث يستأجر أوسكار كلبا ً ويذهب إلى حديقة، وهناك يعود له الكلب ببنصر امرأة، يأخذه أوسكار، ويشاهده عندها رجل يدعى فيتلار، ويصير صديقه فيما بعد، ولكنه قبل هذه الصداقة، يرافقه، وبعد حوار يطلب منه أوسكار أن يبلغ عنه الشرطة، إذا كان يرغب في الشهرة التي حصل عليها أوسكار، وهو ما يفعله فيتلار، وتتم مطاردة أوسكار وخاصة بعدما يكتشف أن البنصر يعود لممرضة دوروتيا، يقبض على أوسكار ويرسل للمصحة، ومع الفصل الأخير (ثلاثون)، يكون أوسكار قد وصل إلى عمر ثلاثين، وبرئت ساحته بعدما عرف القاتل الحقيقي لدوروتيا، وتنتهي الرواية وقد حقق أوسكار هدفه الذي كان قد أعلنه وسط إحدى الصفحات عندما قال: "فعلي أن أصل إلى سن الثلاثين لكي أحتفل بعيد ميلادي الثالث للمرة الثانية، لابد أنكم قد أدركتم قصدي، إن هدف أوسكار هو العودة إلى حبل السرة، لهذا السبب بالذات بذلت تلك الجهود كلها". إذا كنت تعبت من قراءة هذا، فتخيل أن تعيد قراءته على امتداد 687 صفحة مدججة.

When I was younger the only musical instrument we had in the house was an old acoustic guitar of my dad’s. Despite an interest in music, I was never particularly drawn to it, finding it a snivelling and cowardly instrument; an acoustic guitar, I thought to myself, cowers and sighs and feels sorry for itself, and that wasn’t at all what I wanted to express. No, I wanted to hammer something, to make a noise. Quite evidently, at that age, and in those circumstances, what best suited my feelings was the drums, on which I imagined I could pound out the rhythm of my frustration and fear. Yet we couldn’t afford anything so extravagant, so I abused the old guitar instead, until it was fit for no purpose other than kindling.Llittle Oskar Matzerath, the central character, and narrator, of Günter Wilhelm Grass’ renowned German novel, is, however, a little more fortunate. Upon his birth his mother promises him a drum by his third birthday, and, in accordance with that promise, one is duly given to him. As the title of the novel suggests, the instrument plays a pivotal role in the boy’s life and the work as a whole. Oskar quickly bonds with it, finding in it, much like I hoped I would, a way of expressing himself; indeed, it acts almost in place of speech as a means of communication, so that when he commences his tale on ‘virgin white paper’ he appears to be suggesting that the drum is telling it for him [something that is not unknown in certain African cultures, where the drum is used to communicate over long distances by mimicking patterns of speech], or that it at least allows him to tell it.“If I didn’t have my drum, which, when handled adroitly and patiently, remembers all the incidentals that I need to get the essential down on paper, and if I didn’t have the permission of the management [of the mental institution] to drum on it three or four hours a day, I’d be a poor bastard with nothing to say…”One must credit Grass, because Oskar’s drum is the most ingenious literary prop. Its versatility is astounding; it has so many functions in the text beyond being a child’s favourite toy. Most surprisingly, it acts as an accompaniment to the work, by which I mean that one cannot help but hear it throughout one’s reading, not only because the Oskar in the story is continually bashing it, but because we know that the Oskar in the asylum is also beating it while he narrates. So when the action speeds up one finds oneself assailed by a frantic pounding; in slower moments, the action is soundtracked with a soft patter. In this way, the drum not only mirrors Oskar’s moods, and the action of the novel, but your own moods and experience of the book as well, even though one cannot literally hear it! It’s a pretty extraordinary thing.One might also want to consider why Grass chose a drum, for there are numerous instruments that can express feelings and set tempo. It is, first of all, the oldest known instrument; and is considered to be the root of music, perhaps also the sound of nature. There is, then, something primordial about it, it, in a sense, harks back to man’s earliest, least sophisticated state. One must remember that Oskar for much of the novel is pretending to be a simpleton, and yet considers himself superior to everyone else. In this way, the drum symbolises how other people see him, but also symbolises how he sees them and the world. Furthermore, the drum is, of course, associated with the military, specifically with parades, marches, and rallies. While The Tin Drum is not solely focused on World War 2, for the book spans a larger historical period than that conflict, it certainly plays a significant role in the text. So it isn’t a stretch to suggest that Oskar’s pounding heralds, so to speak, and could be said to mimic, the army’s jackbooted marching.As one would perhaps expect of a novel at least partly concerned with World War 2, destruction is one of the major themes; indeed, it is in relation to this theme that one begins to understand the wider significance of this grotesque little drummer boy. His harsh, doomy-sounding and violent [to play it is, in most cases, to strike it] instrument of choice, his madness, as well as his ability to shatter glass with his voice, could be said to represent not only the collective insanity of the German people, but the literal destruction of Germany and the violence of Hitler’s ideology. Certainly, Oskar’s ‘singshattering’ foreshadows, and could even be said to be responsible for, Kristallnacht, which is invariably seen as the first co-ordinated step towards the Final Solution and the Holocaust.There are, furthermore, repeated references to fire. In the very beginning, we are introduced to Oskar’s grandmother; Anna; she comes to marry a man called Joseph Koljaiczek, who was once a kind of Polish revolutionary and, specifically, an arsonist. Moreover, Oskar’s drum is said to have a pattern of red and white flames; in this way, one could say the drum itself, not only Oskar with his voice, promises destruction. The pattern on the tin drum is also evidence of one of the book’s other preoccupations, which is Poland. Red and white is, of course, the colour of their flag. I must admit that I am no expert on Polish history and the country’s relations with Germany, but I do know a little about Danzig, where part of the novel is set. Danzig [or Gdańsk as it is now known] is a Polish city on the Baltic coast that was once ruled by Germany. More pertinently, Hitler used the issue of the status of the city as a pretext for attacking Poland.“I look for the land of the Poles that is lost to the Germans, for the moment at least. Nowadays the Germans have started searching for Poland with credits, Leicas, and compasses, with radar, divining rods, delegations, and moth-eaten provincial students’ associations in costume. Some carry Chopin in their hearts, others thoughts of revenge. Condemning the first four partitions of Poland, they are busily planning a fifth; in the meantime flying to Warsaw via Air France in order to deposit, with appropriate remorse, a wreath on the spot that was once the ghetto. One of these days they will go searching for Poland with rockets. I, meanwhile, conjure up Poland on my drum. And this is what I drum: Poland’s lost, but not forever, all’s lost, but not forever, Poland’s not lost forever.”The Tin Drum, I imagine it is clear by now, is a complex work, one that is on the surface a kind of bildungsroman, but which engages with numerous political, philosophical issues, and is full of motifs and symbolism and allusions. Some of this is relatively easy to get your head around and some of it is slightly more slippery. For example, there is a lot of duality in the novel that I’m not sure I can fully explain – the city of Danzig, which is both Polish and German; Oskar having two fathers, etc – except in relation to each other. One such, that of good and evil or Jesus and Satan, strikes me as particularly interesting. Of course, that a novel concerned with World War 2 would be exploring good and evil isn’t surprising, but it is maybe more eyebrow-raising that the narrator seems to come down on the side of the horned-one. For example, during his baptism Oskar is asked to renounce the Devil and he refuses. In fact, if I was to compare Oskar to any other literary character it would be the charismatic Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost. I don’t think this is a wild swing in the dark either. At one stage, Oskar takes to cutting holes in shop windows, not in order to steal himself but to try and tempt others into doing so.It strikes me as odd that in the few reviews or articles that I’ve come across online not one of them has used the term unreliable narrator; it is almost as though Oskar’s voice [or drum!] is so persuasive that readers take what he says on face value, regardless of how strange it is, preferring instead to label the book magical realist. That really doesn’t make much sense to me. Oskar, in the very first line of the novel, reveals that he is currently in an insane asylum, so one has to doubt, for example, his claim that he made a conscious decision to stop growing, or that his voice can shatter glass, and so on. Moreover, even if he wasn’t apparently mad, one would still call into question what Oskar says, because he makes it clear that he has one eye on creating an interesting and dramatic narrative; and he certainly gives the impression of withholding and manipulating information. He also, for what it’s worth, very obviously has a high opinion of himself, despite his short-comings [boom, boom], or rather because of them; that someone might compensate for any physical defects with a show of supreme self-confidence, or that they may lie in order to appear more exciting and more interesting, or even that they may want to turn these defects into magical gifts, does not seem completely unbelievable. None of this puts me in mind of magical realism, where the idea is that the genuinely magical exists side-by-side, so to speak, with the ordinary.Before wrapping this up, I want to mention Grass’ prose and, by extension, the translation. I have read The Tin Drum twice now; the first time was in Ralph Manheim’s translation, which I enjoyed and, not reading German myself, wouldn’t have criticised at all. However, I chose, in re-reading the book, to try Breon Mitchell’s newer version. Now, generally speaking I do not like modern translations. I think they are often egotistical, serving the translator, with their own odd quirks, more than the work itself, so that regardless of the work in question, or who authored it, one can always tell who translated it; I also think that modern translators very rarely have a great command of English, or even, in some cases, an adequate one [I’m looking at you Pevear & Volokhonsky]. Yet I was hugely impressed by Breon Mitchell’s rendering of The Tin Drum. It’s fresher, and funnier than Manheim’s; it’s more alive and poetic. I accept that it is possible that I simply do not remember Manheim’s translation in sufficient detail, but I can certainly recall my reaction it to. For example, I did not see anything of Joyce or Nabokov or Bely in it, but I did see echoes of all those writers in Mitchell’s version, which is playful and makes frequent use of alliteration, word play, and switches between third and first person narration, and so on. As a consequence of all this, his translation would be tougher to read, I’d imagine, but the rewards are far greater.In any case, although this review in nearly 2000 words long I know I have barely disturbed the surface of the work. Oskar’s affairs, his stint as a Jazz musician and model, the role of the circus, outsiderism, the onion bar where people go to cry, the HORSE’S HEAD AND THE EELS [don’t ask – I could barely keep anything down for a week after reading that passage]: all of these things, and more, could be explored in greater detail, but I fear you have perhaps only been skim-reading since about the third paragraph. But, if, out a sense of politeness, I have your full attention once again I would strongly urge you to read The Tin Drum, to put yourselves in Oskar’s dainty hands for a week or two. And if you have read it before? Read it again.
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Reviews
Tyler
Describing this book's good points is hard, so I'll start with the echoes. This book of overlapping situations gives off echoes even past its last page. People, places and things all have echoes. A work of magical realism about a demented dwarf shouldn't appeal to me. Descriptions of the book as “humorous” or “hilarious” are odd, because nothing about war is funny. Nor are Germans funny. But I read the book anyway. Grass writes with wit and sometimes dry humor, but adjectives describing The Tin Drum as "funny" are a little imprecise.The narrative moves us through situations from the twenties to the fifties, and the situations move us from persons to persons. By the end, the author has built a panorama of human complexity, showing us the nuances found among people, or even within a single person.Whoever likes the eye-catching first sentence will like what follows. The German quest for precision brings out superb storytelling. The plot moves with measured time and composed detail. Chapters and paragraphs emerge from the whole like tasty morsels, and readers can lose themselves in the vignettes. Grass’s rendering of the mundane consistently mesmerizes: A breakwater you can imagine yourself standing on; a package of fizz powder you can feel yourself holding; a room you can see yourself standing in. Even a ménage à trois you can imagine yourself a part of somehow. As well as situations, the human face shows its many aspects in characters, each drawing out some facet of experience. One character, the blue-eyed Jan, personifies human vulnerability. Another, Leo, represents the fragility of identity – he may not even be real, or he may be part of the protagonist, Oskar. Yet another character, Lucy, may be one of the most terrifying in fiction, precisely because we do in real life find ourselves observed by triangle-faced, fox-eyed, black-haired girls exuding uncertain intentions. The tone is like that of no other novel. An existential din shifts the tide of history from abstract forces onto the millions of people whose personalities actually move that tide. The Tin Drum expresses the people who appear in its pages, not the forces they live under. The book as a whole has its own tone as well, revealing an ever-more-present sense of living in a vacuum. That vacuum is the antagonist that the protagonist must somehow defeat. Now the drum begins to make sense.People searching for a way out of the vacuum cause the echoes. Those echoes originate in their thoughts – our thoughts. Let's be glad the author doesn’t try to put the thoughts into words -- it can't be done. But if words can't describe a catastrophe such as World War II, the magical element allows us to feel our way along the echoes of that disaster. And the realism of the book allows us to construct an unknowable future from an unthinkable past.
Matt
I knew this book is good, but I had no idea it were that good.The novel that is not novelOn the surface, this is a fairly simple, easy to read book. It's the first novel by Günter Grass and it was published in 1959. You would think an author of this caliber would produce something that has a sophisticated (or should I say complicated?) style, something awesome, something the literary world would have a hard time explaining. But — he didn't. Grass obviously wasn't very fond of this. Right at the beginning he lets his narrator issue the following statement about the so-called "crisis" of modern novel: Man kann eine Geschichte in der Mitte beginnen und vorwärts wie rückwärts kühn ausschreitend Verwirrung anstiften. Man kann sich modern geben, alle Zeiten, Entfernungen wegstreichen und hinterher verkünden oder verkünden lassen, man habe endlich und in letzter Stunde das Raum-Zeit-Problem gelöst. Man kann auch ganz zu Anfang behaupten, es sei heutzutage unmöglich, einen Roman zu schreiben, dann aber, sozusagen hinter dem eigenen Rücken, einen kräftigen Knüller hinlegen, um schließlich als letztmöglicher Romanschreiber dazustehn. Auch habe ich mir sagen lassen, daß es sich gut und bescheiden ausnimmt, wenn man anfangs beteuert: Es gibt keine Romanhelden mehr, weil es keine Individualisten mehr gibt, weil die Individualität verlorengegangen, weil der Mensch einsam, jeder Mensch gleich einsam, ohne Recht auf individuelle Einsamkeit ist und eine namen- und heldenlose einsame Masse bildet. Das mag alles so sein und seine Richtigkeit haben. Für mich, Oskar, und meinen Pfleger Bruno möchte ich jedoch feststellen: Wir beide sind Helden, ganz verschiedene Helden, er hinter dem Guckloch, ich vor dem Guckloch; und wenn er die Tür aufmacht, sind wir beide, bei aller Freundschaft und Einsamkeit, noch immer keine namen- und heldenlose Masse. You can start a story in the middle, then strike out boldly backward and forward to create confusion. You can be modern, delete all reference to time and distance, and then proclaim or let someone else proclaim that at the eleventh hour you've finally solved the space-time problem. Or you can start by declaring that novels can no longer be written, and then, behind your own back as it were, produce a mighty blockbuster that establishes you as the last of the great novelists. I've also been told it makes a good impression to begin modestly by asserting that novels no longer have heroes because individuals have ceased to exist, that individualism is a thing of the past, that all human beings are lonely, all equally lonely, with no claim to individual loneliness, that they all form some nameless mass devoid of heroes. All that may be true. But as far as I and my keeper Bruno are concerned, I beg to state that we are both heroes, quite different heroes, he behind his peephole, I in front of it; and that when he opens the door, the two of us, for all our friendship and loneliness, are still far from being some nameless mass devoid of heroes.The hero who is not heroicSo we do have a self-proclaimed hero here, something like that anyway, and his name is Matzerath, Oskar Matzerath. And this is his=story. Oskar sits in the center of it, everything else circles around him like moths around light-bulbs. Oskar is the smallest (as in body) and biggest (as in ego) "hero" I've ever encountered. At the tender age of three he decides to quit growing. His body length remains a convenient 96 centimeters (roughly 3 foot 2). This is convenient for him because a) he is treated by his parents, neighbors, and strangers as a small child and b) he is able time and again to return to some kind of embryonic state. His favorite places for this are under the skirts of his grandma, under tables, and in cupboards. From there he experiences the world around (or above) him, drawing his conclusions, growing intellectually. For quite some time Oskar doesn't speak and his means of communication are drumming (more on that later) and screaming in a way that makes glass burst.DanzigOskar is born in 1927 and growing up (or not growing up) in a suburb of the city of Danzig. Today this city is called Gdańsk and belongs to Poland. Back then the situation was more complicated. The official name of Danzig between 1920 and 1939 was Free City of Danzig. Located at the Baltic Sea, with borders to the German Empire and Poland, Danzig and its surrounding settlements were declared free in 1919 in accordance to the treaty of Versailles after World War I. And if that's not complicated enough, Danzig was primarily inhabited by ethnic Germans, while Poland was given full rights to develop and maintain transportation, communication, postal services, and port facilities in the city. In hindsight it comes as no surprise that the very first acts of World War II, committed by the Germans, were the shelling of the Danzig port from the sea-side, and the attack on the Polish Post Office as part of the invasion of Poland. The latter event plays a vital part in this story, and Oskar becomes a first-hand witness of it.As a side note I like to mention that reading this chapter was a strange experience for me. I never read this novel before, of that I'm sure, and I only saw some trailers of the 1979 movie. But still I had this feeling, when I came to the chapter called The Polish Post Office, that I read it before. The images were so clear, and seemed so familiar that I have a hard time to figure out how they came to my mind in the first place. Maybe, although unlikely, we had to read this single chapter way back in school, and that I simply forgot about this fact, but I doubt it. In any case it was it was the weirdest kind of déjà-lu I ever had.DüsseldorfTo avoid spoilers I have to skip a few years, many chapters, and the events of World War II, during which Oskar and his family stay in Danzig. After the war they became refugees. The scenes describing their flight in a boxcar from Danzig to West Germany are the most disturbing ones, so I better skip these too. They eventually made their way to the city of Düsseldorf, which was considered a nucleus in the early federal republic of first chancellor Konrad Adenauer. I'm on a more familiar ground here, because Düsseldorf is quite near to where I live. I can go there in less than an hour by car (if traffic allows), and I could visit the places mentioned in the book. Maybe I'll do that one time. I learned there is a small monument in appreciation of Grass and his novel in a catholic church – of all places. (There's also a statue of Oskar Matzerath in Gdańsk, sitting on a park bench, and that might give you an idea of how popular this character is.) In Düsseldorf Oskar takes on several exotic jobs including a chiseler, a – sometimes nude – model posing for art students, and a drummer (more on that later) of a jazz band. This last job takes him to a club called Zwiebelkeller (The Onion Cellar) where people are supposed to peel onions with a knife prior to the band's performances. The onions do what onions usually do when peeled and that is making the peelers cry and crying obviously didn't come naturally in what is called in the book the tear-less century.Much later, in 2006, Günter Grass published his (first) autobiographical book called Peeling The Onion. In there he remembers his early childhood in Danzig through the late 1950s right before The Tin Drum. I wonder how many tears he shed while he wrote this book (which I haven't read yet) ... quite a few I suppose. Grass also stayed in Düsseldorf for a while where he completed an internship as a stonemason before he studied graphics and sculpture at the art academy there and then he became – no, not a jazz drummer – but a writer. At the age of thirty he wrote The Tin Drum and Oskar's story ends, you probably guessed it, on Oskar's thirtieth birthday. Funny how similar some CVs are!DrummingThe very first sentence in this novel is one of the most revealing ones, I think: Zugegeben: ich bin Insasse einer Heil- und Pflegeanstalt, mein Pfleger beobachtet mich, läßt mich kaum aus dem Auge; denn in der Tür ist ein Guckloch, und meines Pflegers Auge ist von jenem Braun, welches mich, den Blauäugigen, nicht durchschauen kann. Granted: I’m an inmate in a mental institution; my keeper watches me, scarcely lets me out of sight, for there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can’t see through blue-eyed types like me.If you ever wondered whether the narrator you're dealing with is reliable or not, here's one case where it's pretty easy to decide. Oskar Matzerath isn't reliable at all! He tells his story from this institution and he mentions far too many incredible, fantastical, events that cannot possibly be all true. Magic realism this is called, or was it realistic magic? – I never know which. Be it magical or real events Oskar is telling, you can't help but like him. And why? Because he remains looking like a small child for all of his life, and small children are supposed to invent fantastical events, don't they?In addition he always carries a toy with him and that's (finally) the titular tin drum. Although it's not the same drum all the time, because continuously drumming such a thing wears it out after a couple of weeks, and the drum has to be replaced. There's also a period of a few years when he doesn't drum at all. But the little drummer boy picks it up again and starts drumming stronger and louder than ever, in fact he says that the he is not narrating his story, but rather drumming it. I think with the tin drum device Grass found the ideal symbol for his writing. Such a thing makes a lot of noise and people can't help but hearing it. In this sense a tin drum is not much unlike a mechanical typewriter Grass used to write his manuscripts with. And Grass made a lot of noise too. With his novels against oblivion, with his articles in newspapers, with his whole being as a politically active intellectual. Of course he didn't have only friends in Germany (and elsewhere), but many adversaries as well. I also did not agree with everything he uttered, but, at the very least, what he uttered was always deliberate and worth considering. After The Tin Drum I had to re-read the eulogy for Günter Grass by John Irving, who was a dear friend of Grass, and who created his own protagonist, Owen Meany, along the lines of Oskar Matzerath."I know how Oskar feels. Günter Grass was the king of the toy merchants. Now he has left us, and he took all the toys in the world away." This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
matt
Wonderful template for modern magic realism. I picked this up in the bookstore and was immediately hooked by the first hundred pages or so. Than it began to cool off for me, right between the 200-300 mark and then it came round the bend strong.Some of the prose here is just un-fucking believable. Moving, 'darkly funny'(even though that proud distinction has been overused to within an inch of its life, to the point of utter meaninglessness) and satire with a furious moral imperative which never submits to self-righteousness naivete or pedantic pap. I can absolutely see how Rushdie read this and how it made him want to be a writer. The language is SO alive- so sharp and so acute and so assured and vibrant and completely clear-eyed about the kind of world it (and, let's face it, WE) inhabit in various ways. Grass does that thing which many great modern (and others not so modern) have mastered: the ability to do a vivid, lively storyline with all the clangor and misery and casual, grotesque cruelty of everyday life (particularly under, uh, fascism) and not blink. Accepting a certain kind of horror and really laughing in the face of it, calling it out on its fundamental absurdity and refusing to lose one's critical sense and redemptive humor in the process. As a German writing in the aftermath of the long nightmare his country had fallen into, Grass achieved something mighty wonderful in having accomplished a book like this. Moral ambiguity without excusing anyone (we didn't know what was going on, we were just following orders, etc) or engaging in insufferable moralization is a real imaginative accomplishment, one which I think anyone who approaches the book with a curious mind and open heart can celebrate.His vision is so strong- for a first novel it's remarkably confident and dead-on. The narrative gets very surreal in places, rather unexpectedly (fizzy packets in the bellybutton as sublimated sex? Whaa?) but somehow he makes it no only believable but inevitable in some way. Oskar is a completely fascinating creation- wise, laconic, exuberant, suspicious, innocent, damaged, arrogant, sweet, and a little perverse.I haven't seen the movie- yet- but I'm chomping at the bit. This one is worth the ride- 600 pages or so, nightmarish Nazi subject matter, complex and unresolved plot points, straining of credulity, etc- and will get inside your head!
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