Oh what a marvelous book! As I started it I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to get into it or not, but before long I was hooked. Thomas Mann can write the reader into a cozy corner of family and ideas and decadence of the 19th and 20th century Europe. Colm Toibin doesn’t quite get to literary level of Mann, but he definitely knows how it works, like how to do right by ink and paper.
By Colm Toibin
Read by Gunnar Cauthery 16h 37m
Rating: 9.5 / biographical novel
I think it would be a good idea for readers of The Magician to be familiar with the works of Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, Death in Venice, The Magic Mountain, at least before reading the Toibin book. And being more familiar with his biography than I was would be helpful. (I had barely a glossing – if that.)
Mann wrote those novels (and much more) in the order above, so quite a lot of his life goes along with the novels chronologically. The book is actually called a “biographical novel” for a reason.
Toibin had an excellent resource in Mann’s diaries which were published a few years ago and there have been proper biographies, too. But Toibin brings his own sensitivities which work to bring a collection of facts to life. (Oh how cliched of me).
The book is written somewhat like Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family (1901). It’s a family saga in which grain, banking and the industrial revolution give the family its start. but the children and grandchildren have their own lives to live. This goes further in years than Buddenbrooks because Mann lived through WWII and well into the Cold War.
In The Magician, Mann marries Katia Pringsheim who was from a large and wealthy Jewish family. Thomas and Katia had six children and the family was very close. Mann won the Nobel Prize for literature relatively early in his career. They moved to Davos in Switzerland for medical treatment of TB but didn’t return to Munich because of the Nazi regime. Instead the Manns managed to move to the US. There he was active in opposing the Nazis while each of his children did their own thing in the world.
I suppose, and like Buddenbrooks, the 1st generation of Manns did wonderfully well and the second generation (Thomas and his siblings) did well enough to keep things afloat with Thomas “making” the family name, but the third generation fell apart. That may be the work of a broad brush, so don’t scrutinize too carefully. (However, if Mann did model Buddenbrooks after his own family and the Buddenbrooks Effect in business is developed from that well … I think it’s important to note.)
This was helpful for genealogy:
Toibin also develops very interesting characters outside the Mann family and they’re historical too. Alma Mahler for one:
His fiction is quite philosophical (as was Mann’s) with a bit more explicit homo-erotic tones. Less well-known these days are his activism against Fascism and the Holocaust when he found out. He spoke out as much as possible. But Thomas and Katia were also suspect because he was German – his wife was Jewish and they hung out with artists.) He was NOT a socialist in spite of the rumors.
Toibin is no Thomas Mann, but he’s quite a good novelist for quite a long time and having been awarded numerous prizes. He did the same kind of thing biographical novel with the life of Henry James in The Master (2004).
In some ways Mann reminds me of America’s William Faulkner.