First line: “An ordinary young man was on his way from his hometown
of Hamburg to Davos-Platz in the canton of Graubünden.” Hans Castorp
is going to visit his cousin who is recovering from tuberculosis at a
sanatorium in the Alps. Here we go . . .
If you read the sneak preview I published a few days ago, you already know
the main characters: Hans Castorp, his cousin Joachim Ziemssen, and
Madame Clavdia Chauchat.
(type in ‘sneak preview’ in search box above at right)
And you might suspect– because of the length of the book!– that Hans
is going to stay more than three weeks. But seven years? What could
happen in seven years time? Picture a seven year stint of time in your
own life—could you have described it in 700 pages? Well, Thomas Mann
took the time to walk us through it. And it is mostly at a walking pace,
which is not a bad thing for a nice summertime read.
Have I mentioned “time” three “times” in that last paragraph? Well,
oho! “time” is also considered a character in this novel, for there
are tricks of time, and shadowy passages of time . . . and by the end of
the book, Hans has discarded wearing a watch, using a calendar . . .
free of time.
Before I forget, one of the reasons I enjoyed this novel was because
of its translation by John E. Woods–look for that edition.
And also will mention that I was amused, as perhaps Thomas Mann was,
that the patients at the sanatorium were always bare-headed—in the
most frightful weather! My own mother would have cautioned them to
put something on their heads and not “go out bare-headed!” (Catch
your death of cold and so forth.)
But let’s get to the book discussion that might take place at our book
club next Tuesday evening. These are questions I might ask:
What does the title mean?
Why were the characters of Settembrini and Naphta important to
the story? Were you swayed by their dueling political discussions?
Was Hans influenced by either?
The book was published in 1924, but Thomas Mann began writing
it in 1912. Does that date help with understanding Mann’s underlying
themes in the book?
What did you make of the incident with Holger?
Why was the character of Mynheer Peeperkorn introduced? Did Mann
have a particular reason?
Why do you think Mann chose a sanatorium as a setting for his story?
Illness was described as a reason for stupidity—and for brilliance!
What do you think? Does illness make one stronger?
The most moving part of the book for me was near the end, describing
a battle scene of World War I. “Feverish young lads”, three thousand
of them, are sent up a hill, so that two thousand of them will reach
the top of the hill, and one thousand will shout out a hurrah in victory.
World War I was the “war to end all wars”. Right.
There are parts of The Magic Mountain which I found difficult to
understand. In an interview Mann once advised people to reread
the book for better understanding. um-m-m . . .
So I leave the “magic mountain”. I feel like I really am leaving a place
where I spent the summer. It was a pleasant vacation. I will let you
know what the book club thought. Stay tuned.
Last line: “And out of this worldwide festival of death, this ugly rutting
fever that inflames the rainy evening sky all around–will love someday
rise up out of this, too?”