I finally read The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) by Günter Grass. It is generally considered one of the best German language novels of the 20th century and it is compulsory reading at many German and Dutch high schools. I didn't read it at the time because an elderly gentleman, a friend of my parents, whom as a child I greatly respected because he had a large library and exuded an air of great erudition, once said that he considered it a dreadful novel. Now that I have read it I have to admit that he was right: It is indeed pretty hard going. Even so I did finish it, because I didn't want to give up, because despite everything and even though I found him a pretty annoying character, I was curious how Oskar would get along and because the final chapter of book 1, Glaube Hoffnung Liebe (I read it in German) is brilliant and I was hoping that at least some later chapters would reach the same heights, which unfortunately they didn't.
I understand why The Tin Drum is considered a classic of post-World War II German literature. Through the eyes of Oskar Matzerath Günter Grass manages to give a vivid portrayal of pre- and post war Germany. Its lightness of tone distinguished it from much post-war German literature, which struggled with the question of how to write after Auschwitz. Grass is particularly successful in his depiction of small town petty-bourgeois Germany. I pity the high school students who have to plough through the entire novel though.