The Tin Drum Tough-o-Meter
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Snow Line (8)
Many things make this book a challenging read. It's almost 600 pages long and translated from the German. The events jump around in time and there are lots of local and historical references that most Americans are unfamiliar with. Grass's sentences are long and complex; most of us don't know much about the culture of the novel's setting (Kashubians?); and of course, the magical realist style results in confusing, dreamlike, irrational sequences. Add to that the fact that our narrator is a self-admitted liar who currently resides in a mental institution, and well—Snow Line.
What also makes it difficult is that many of the episodes are pretty disturbing, with a lot of graphic imagery that can be pretty gross. When the New York Times got hold of the English translation in 1963, their reviewer thought that "The Tin Drum is much too long. It is repetitious. It is soggy and tedious in spots. It is gross, grotesque, gruesome and horrible throughout. Even those who think themselves inured to the indecencies of modern fiction will find much of "The Tin Drum" excessively nasty. It is blasphemous also, deliberately and offensively blasphemous."
This same reviewer also thought it was too difficult and too German a novel for American readers. Obviously, reviewers in the pre-Shmoop era were at a serious disadvantage, so we promise to be reliable Sherpa guides on this uphill climb.
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