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The Tin Drum

Marking the 50th anniversary of ‘The Tin Drum,’ a new English translation gives Günter Grass’s classic a fresh musicality.

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In preparing his new translation of The Tin Drum, Breon Mitchell, along with about a dozen other translators, had the privilege of working directly with Günter Grass, touring Gdansk (previously Danzig), the setting for much of the novel, and questioning the author about nagging issues. The result – just in time for the book’s 50th anniversary this year – is an extraordinary new English translation that presents the text in all its musicality, ingenious wordplay, deft symbolism, and carefully metered rhythms.

The translator’s afterword is also a helpful addition, providing insights into the translation process – while paying respect to the work of the novel’s original translator, Ralph Manheim – and delineating the extensive research and collaboration that went into reinvigorating an established classic of postwar literature.

“The Tin Drum” is a strange, capacious novel, an epic satire and farce, and a provincial, magical realist, picaresque tale. The book is the autobiography of Oskar Matzerath, who tells his life story from a German mental hospital in 1954. Having deliberately stunted his growth at the age of 3 and capable of shattering glass with his voice, Oskar is a force of anarchy, torn between the teachings of the mad faith healer Rasputin and the poet-prince Goethe, and between Satan and Jesus, both of whom Oskar impersonates.

He’s certainly a bit mad, even monstrous, which is why his peculiar vision of a monstrous era – 1930s and ’40s Germany – is an essential one.

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