Opinion / OP Rana

Let's toast the nobodies and some writers

By OP Rana (China Daily) Updated: 2015-04-18 08:12

Used as an idiom, to "beat a tin drum" means creating disturbance to draw attention to a cause. The Tin Drum by Guenter Grass introduced us to the irritable and unreliable Oskar Matzerath and his sane (or insane, depending on how one perceives him) narration of the troubled times that culminated in World War II. Grass beat the "tin drum" to such a pitch 14 years after the end of WWII that the world was forced to pay attention to his cause.

The Tin Drum was the first book of the Danzig Trilogy (Cat and Mouse and Dog Years being the other two) and on its release it was panned by critics, with some calling it blasphemous and pornographic, even incestuous. But within a few years, it came to be accepted as a postwar literary masterpiece. In Oskar, who refuses to grow up, we find shades of Jaroslav Hasek's bumbling Good Soldier Svejk. Both are against war and both have a streak of madness in them. But unlike Svejk, Oskar refuses to join the war, beating his tin drum in protest.

Grass, however, fell out of favor once he revealed that he had joined the Waffen-SS, the armed wing of the Nazi Party, as a teenager in 1944 and was taken prisoner by American troops in 1945 and released only in 1946. Such was the impact of his confession that Grass died almost unsung on April 13. The shades of magic realism he created with the help of Oskar, the bitter truth of the war that he laid bare in his novels and the Danzig (Gdansk) he represented before Lech Walesa were not enough to wash away the stigma of his Nazi past.

Perhaps Grass deserved a better farewell, if for nothing more than having the courage to reveal his past and seek redemption. Perhaps the world has not been fair to a trailblazer.

But what had Eduardo Galeano, another literary giant, albeit from a totally different part of the world, done to die unheralded by the media on the same day as Grass. Galeano was to soccer what C.L.R James was to cricket. His Open Veins of Latin America and Football in the Sun and Shadow are landmarks in historical and sports-cum-political writing. To top it all, he was also a poet.

Exactly a year before the deaths of Grass and Galeano, one of the greatest authors of all times passed into history. The pillars of literary endeavor, of which Gabriel Garcia was definitely a very strong one, are leaving us in an age when great writers, thinkers and philosophers are becoming rarer by the day.

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