Belated, but Still Worth Banging a 'Tin Drum'

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Little Oskar the Drummer has finally conquered the world. His creator, German author Günter Grass, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature Thursday, with his "Tin Drum," published in 1959, cited as "one of the enduring literary works of the 20th century." "It’s an excellent award, 30 years overdue, but better late than never," says TIME literary critic Paul Gray. "‘The Tin Drum’ was a pioneering attempt at new fictional forms, a kind of postmodern attempt at super-realism to deal with the bizarre and ugly rise of Nazism. It was an attempt to explore history through a kind of surreal fiction."

The book’s protagonist, Oskar, refuses to grow in protest at the hypocrisies he sees all around him as Germany is seduced by the allure of Nazism, and then –- as a dwarf –- gains privileged access to the elite of the Third Reich. Its bold exploration of issues postwar Germany was doing its best to forget made its author a legendary social critic and literary provocateur. He became strongly identified with Germany’s political left, and in 1990 was criticized for rejecting the speedy reunification of East and West Germany. "In his later writing, he took partisan political positions," says Gray. "But in ‘The Tin Drum’ he sides broadly with humanity against Nazism. It’s one of the great books of the ‘50s and ‘60s in any language." One group that won’t be impressed by the Nobel Committee’s choice: Oklahomans for Children and Families. The morality watchdog group last year managed to convince Oklahoma City authorities to ban the movie version of "The Tin Drum" –- winner of the 1979 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film –- on the basis of its sex scenes.