Midnight’s Children vs The Tin Drum: Why Salman Rushdie owes a huge debt to Günter Grass

I was a little dismayed last week when Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children won another big prize. I have always thought it to be a rather overated work of literature, although I accept that many Booker lovers like it. My main objection, when I think about it, is that it is effectively a derivative work of Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum. I mean this in terms of style, structure, charactisation and plot.

I believe that Rushdie is indebted to Grass for the following reasons:

1/. Magic Realism: Both novels are said to be examples of Magic Realism. Previous to Grass, critics used the term ‘magic realism’ to describe paintings of the Neue Sachlichkeit. Grass’s novel invented a whole new genre of literary Magic Realism and so obviously Rushdie owes a debt to him for that.

2/. Structure: Rushdie is further indebted to Grass in the way that he ‘borrow’s the main structural device: using the private lives of both protagonists to reflect public events. To be fair, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude also owes something to Grass in this respect.

3/. Oskar is born the day the Nazis come to power. Saleem is born on the moment of Indian independence.

4/. Both are unreliable narrators.

5/. Both are demonic children: Oskar claims he can break glass with his voice. Saleem uses telepathy. Oskar is a dwarf (or little person) – Saleem has nasal difficulties.

6/. Both believe that the man their mother is having an affair with is
really his father. Oskar believes that Jan Bronski (a Pole) is his father. Saleem believes that Nadir Khan (muslim) is his father. Significant because Oskar is German and Saleem is Hindu.

7/. In many ways The Tin Drum retells the days of Grass’s childhood in Danzig. In many ways Midnight’s Children retells the days of Rushdie’s childhood growing up in Mumbai.