*Danzig or Gdansk (DAN-zik; GEH-danshk). Major Polish port on the Baltic Sea that has a long and colorful history dating from the tenth century. At times through the ages Germany controlled the city, and it was called Danzig. During other periods it was a city-state known as Gdansk. In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and seized Gdansk, its name was again changed to Danzig. After World War II it became a part of Poland and was again called Gdansk, which has continued to be its name.
Günter Grass was born and grew up in this city, where his parents owned a grocery store. The opening section of The Tin Drum outwardly recalls Grass’s early years through the voice of his fictional narrator, Oskar Matzerath. Like Grass, Oskar was born in the 1930’s. His parents also operate a small grocery store, and much of the first part of the novel takes place in the shop and the family’s adjacent living quarters. Oskar succeeds in creating the ambience of a family-run store, bringing the customers to life, as well as making the goods, their texture and smells, tangible. He fully captures the colorful port city with its ancient buildings, narrow streets, and cramped quarters, along with its waterfront and beach areas. He also recounts the lives of his grandparents, who lived on a farm in the Polish province of Kashubia, a rural area that he describes in a distinctive manner.
Like his fictional Oskar, Grass lived through the German invasion of the city in 1939 and its aftermath. These events are turned into a vivid piece of fiction that depicts how the presence of the German occupation force dramatically alters the city’s atmosphere. Although Grass certainly drew on his early years to give this part of the novel its rich texture and realistic tone, the narrative itself undermines the authenticity of its setting. Places and objects take on a significance in the novel far removed from reality, as Grass converts ordinary surroundings and objects into extended...
(The entire section is 821 words.)