Adam Calhoun's Reviews > The Magic Mountain

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
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Apr 26, 2011

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Apparently Thomas Mann decided that he wanted to write about European Society in the years leading up to the first world war. What we get is an amusing first couple hundred of pages where one Hans Castorp is stuck at a sanatorium. Then we are treated to a few hundred pages of increasingly dense philosophizing, before returning at the close to our sanatorium story once more. There are several books to like here, but I'm not sure that Thomas Mann did a good job of weaving them all together.

Hans Castorp's cavorting in the sanatorium is pretty funny and could have been the plot of a sharp satire. Unfortunately the momentum is lost in the middle half of the book when the plot somewhat disappears and Settembrini and Naphta take center stage. When the plot is taken up again every so often it is alternately interesting and ridiculous; one gets the sense that Mann realized he needed to end the book but didn't fully know how to reintegrate the story.

Settembrini and Naphta are infuriating if interesting. One, Settembrini, is a poor democrat who refuses to let others speak, revealing his desire to use democracy as a way for the disadvantaged to gain power. Naphta is a rich socialist who always lets others contribute while maintaining a desire to kill those he disagrees with. Their constant arguments go from sentences to paragraphs to (frustratingly) long blocky summaries of positions. The arguments take a lot of thinking to understand and are not made any easier by how they constantly contradict themselves. I have to admit that while dry, it certainly forced me to think about what the hell was going on which I quite enjoyed. These are not easy chapters but are worth the time to go through more slowly than I did.

I enjoyed most of the book, but for different reasons: one had good story, one was challenging with good ideas. But together? It was left incoherent as a single novel. To fully understand it you must read it twice, but would you want to?
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Quotes Adam Liked

Thomas Mann
“But was it not true that there were people, certain individuals, whom one found it impossible to picture dead, precisely because they were so vulgar? That was to say: they seemed so fit for life, so good at it, that they would never die, as if they were unworthy of the consecration of death.”
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain


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