Monday, June 6, 2011

Thomas Mann: June 6, 1875-- August 12, 1955

Thomas Mann is one of my favorite writers, and The Magic Mountain would be one of the ten desert island books that I would choose to take with me.

It begins quietly:

An unassuming young man was travelling, in midsummer, from his native city of Hamburg to Davos-Platz in the Canton of the Grisons, on a three weeks' visit.

The novel ends:

Farewell--and if thou livest or diest! Thy prospects are poor. The desperate dance, in which thy fortunes are caught up, will last yet many a sinful year; we should not care to set a high stake on thy life by the time it ends. We even confess that is is without great concern we leave the question open. Adventures of the flesh and in the spirit, while enhancing thy simplicity, granted thee to know in the spirit what in the flesh thou scarcely couldst have done. Moments there were, when out of death, and the rebellion of the flesh, there came to thee, as thou tookest stock of thyself, a dream of love. Out of this universal feast of death, out of this extremity of fever, kindling the rain-washed evening sky to a fiery glow, may it be that Love one day should mount.

Castorp plans to visit Joachim, his cousin, who is in a TB sanitarium in Switzerland, but the projected three week visit lasts seven years for Castorp is discovered to have a "moist spot" that could be dangerous. His journey, therefore, has one more stage: from visitor to patient. His visit ends only with the beginning of World War I, when Castorp feels he must answer his country's call. He leaves and enlists in the army.

But during those seven years, Hans Castorp, manages to experience the various ideas, philosophies, and attitudes, along with issues of life, death, and love, prevelant in Western Civilization and, still prevalent today. Much of this is possible through the presence of two of the most unique mentors found in literature: Prof Settembrini and Herr Naptha. Their long-ranging debates? monologues? arguments? cover every possible topic, from the existence of God to politics to art to history to . . . Sometimes I think that by the end of one of their impassioned debates, the two have switched positions and now argue vehemently against their former positions

Overall reaction: What happens between the two quoted paragraphs can be tedious and also frustrating at times, but still it is one of the most fascinating novels I've ever read and reread and reread . . . and I will take it up again. It's well worth the time spent.

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