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There was once a grocer who closed his store one day in November, because something was doing in town; taking his son Oskar by the hand, he boarded a Number 5 streetcar and rode to the Langasser Gate, because there as in Zoppot and Langfuhr the synagogue was on fire. The synagogue had almost burned down and the firemen were looking on, taking care that the flames should not spread to other buildings. Outside the wrecked synagogue, men in uniform and others in civilian clothes piled up books, ritual objects, and strange kinds of cloth. The mound was set on fire and the grocer took advantage of the opportunity to warm his fingers and his feelings over the public blaze.As Oskar grows older (though not taller), portents of war transform into the thing itself. Danzig is the first casualty when, in the summer of 1939, residents turn against each other in a pitched battle between Poles and Germans. In the years that follow, Oskar goes from one picaresque adventure to the next--he joins a troupe of traveling musicians; he becomes the leader of a group of anarchists; he falls in love; he becomes a recording artist--until some time after the war, he is convicted of murder and confined to a mental hospital.
The Tin Drum uses savage comedy and a stiff dose of magical realism to capture not only the madness of war, but also the black cancer at the heart of humanity that allows such degradations to occur. Grass wields his humor like a knife--yes, he'll make you laugh, but he'll make you bleed, as well. There have been many novels written about World War II, but only a handful can truly be called great; The Tin Drum, without a doubt, is one. --Alix Wilber
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