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The Magician

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Colm Tóibín’s new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, Colm Tóibín’s new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles. The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived—the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile.


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Colm Tóibín’s new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, Colm Tóibín’s new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles. The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived—the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile.

30 review for The Magician

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    This book is the closest I have ever got to Thomas Mann. Despite considering The Buddenbrooks as my top ever reads, I never ventured to read any of his other novels. Likewise, I was not interested in his life, being of the opinion that the general information I know would suffice. And probably nothing would have changed had Mr Toibin not written this book. Colm Toibin's literary representation of Thomas Mann, his family life and writing was a fascinating opportunity for me to learn a lot about h This book is the closest I have ever got to Thomas Mann. Despite considering The Buddenbrooks as my top ever reads, I never ventured to read any of his other novels. Likewise, I was not interested in his life, being of the opinion that the general information I know would suffice. And probably nothing would have changed had Mr Toibin not written this book. Colm Toibin's literary representation of Thomas Mann, his family life and writing was a fascinating opportunity for me to learn a lot about him, however, it does not mean that Thomas Mann is now my favourite novelist. He had an unusual life, relatively financially secure, yet, emotionally he suffered, including his forced emigration, his sexuality and son's suicide. The biography is honest, and Mr Toibin does not force his readers to come to love the German novelist, for which I am grateful. Reading this book coincided in the best possible way with The Magic Mountain which is one of the toughest reads of the last decade for me. The coincidence was a perfect timing!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    Colm Toibin writes beautifully about the talented Nobel Prize winning German writer, Thomas Mann (1875-1955), author of Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain, his research into this complex author is impeccable as he traces his life from 1891 in the small judgemental town of Lubeck where the first inklings of his sexuality emerge. Mann comes from a privileged and influential family, his Brazilian mother, Julia, with her stories, so different from his more conservative father. Mann's dreamy natu Colm Toibin writes beautifully about the talented Nobel Prize winning German writer, Thomas Mann (1875-1955), author of Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain, his research into this complex author is impeccable as he traces his life from 1891 in the small judgemental town of Lubeck where the first inklings of his sexuality emerge. Mann comes from a privileged and influential family, his Brazilian mother, Julia, with her stories, so different from his more conservative father. Mann's dreamy nature push him towards leanings towards the artistic side of life, with little inclination for the family business. He goes on to marry into a wealthy Jewish family, his wife Katia Pringshelm, a strong, bright, worldly, practical, protective, and cultured woman, who goes on to have 6 children resulting in a chaotic household with complicated family dynamics. It is Mann's children who come to refer to him as the 'Magician'. Mann is immersed in German culture, the music, and the literature, and shaped by his repressed sexuality, considering different versions of himself, with his crushes on young men. He is a man who finds himself living through the most politically turbulent of historical periods in his life, including WW1, although here there is a greater focus on WW2, right up to the Cold War. The chilling terrors of the rise of Nazism and Hitler take a little time to become apparent to Mann, members of his family, like his brother, Heinrich, are far quicker to comprehend the tragic dangers that are becoming all too clear. However, once Mann understands the growing power of Hitler, he becomes an outspoken critic of the regime, forced into leaving his beloved country to go into exile, to Switzerland, France and the U.S.. I was surprised by the strong feel of non-fiction in this 'fictional' account of Mann's life from Toibin, I really thought he would have given us a more richly imagined picture of his inner persona, his thoughts, desires and sexual yearnings, and the tragedies experienced by the family. I must admit I had little knowledge of Mann's life, and Toibin is certainly knowledgeable and informative, but I wanted my emotions and heart to be more engaged than they actually were. Having said that, I love Toibin's writing, some of the vibrant characterisations, the depiction of family life, and the philosophical aspects of the novel, and would certainly recommend this book to other readers, especially to those interested in this historical period and in Thomas Mann in particular. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

  3. 4 out of 5

    MarilynW

    The Magician by Colm Tóibín I have never read anything by Thomas Mann but thought I knew something about him. Once I started reading this historical novel and also looking at other information about him, I realized I had known nothing about him except that he wrote Death in Venice. The Magician is well research and informative but may have told me, in a very dry manner, more about Thomas Mann than I would have liked to know. In real life, hiding so much of himself, his feelings, and his inclinati The Magician by Colm Tóibín I have never read anything by Thomas Mann but thought I knew something about him. Once I started reading this historical novel and also looking at other information about him, I realized I had known nothing about him except that he wrote Death in Venice. The Magician is well research and informative but may have told me, in a very dry manner, more about Thomas Mann than I would have liked to know. In real life, hiding so much of himself, his feelings, and his inclinations, Mann shows us more than first realized, in his writings. This story shows us that Mann was always "on the job" when it came to his writing, seeing potential passages, characters, and themes for what he wrote, in every single thing that happened around him, to him, and to others. Mann seemed to have a way of standing back from life when we look at him from the outside, when in reality, everything was making an impression on him at the time or sometimes, sadly, after the fact, when he would realize his regrets for not understanding what was really going on at the time. There is a distance between us and the characters in this book and it kept me from feeling much. But that could be because of the "Mann" and that he and his family had so much that they needed to hide. Not that they really hid much very well. Several of his children were sexually active in ways that could get them in great trouble and there seemed to be rumors of his oldest daughter and son not only sharing partners but maybe going too far with each other. The story presents Mann as obsessed with the bodies of young boys and young men, including his obsession with his oldest son, while his son was still a child. These obsessions are expressed in Mann's work and his personal writings, some of which Mann destroyed to prevent being discovered by those who would use them against him. From this story, it seems that Mann's family not didn't mind Mann's obsession with young boys and young men but they even encouraged and abetted it. His hard working and put upon wife seemed to be happy that Mann wouldn't be chasing women like her father did. Their marriage seemed to be a good one in many ways, producing six children despite several miscarriages. There were many suicides in the immediate family and those suicides were a source of great guilt for many of the family members. Mann's writing earned him the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate and he was watched the world over because of his political leanings and writings. I never felt like the author was attempting to get us to like Mann, he was just showing us the man that Mann tried to keep hidden. I came away liking Mann less after getting to know him than I did before I read this book. Published September 7th 2021 by Scribner Thank you to Simon & Schuster/Scribner for the print version of this ARC.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    This story begins in Lübeck, Germany in the year 1891, when the population was around 64,000 people, the year before Sacred Heart Church was consecrated, and two years before the Museum am Dom was built. The world was expanding in population and ideologies, and Germany was, as well. This begins with Thomas Mann as a young boy on a night his parents were entertaining friends in their home, as Thomas, his older brother Heinrich and sisters Lula and Carla looked over the event from the first landi This story begins in Lübeck, Germany in the year 1891, when the population was around 64,000 people, the year before Sacred Heart Church was consecrated, and two years before the Museum am Dom was built. The world was expanding in population and ideologies, and Germany was, as well. This begins with Thomas Mann as a young boy on a night his parents were entertaining friends in their home, as Thomas, his older brother Heinrich and sisters Lula and Carla looked over the event from the first landing, and Viktor, their baby brother, was sleeping upstairs. They watched as their mother made her entrance, at last, pausing for a moment to decide which guest to turn her attention to first, which would be the subject of much discussion the following day in town. A family of much influence. From his young years, it’s clear that Thomas is very observant of those around him, as well as his surroundings, and appreciative of beauty in both the world as well as in the books he reads, and the stories his mother shares of her younger years growing up in Brazil, and the joys of her life there. In comparison, the people of Lübeck seem quite solemn to her. Between the discipline his father instills in him, and the appreciation and attention given to observing life and people he has learned from his mother, he is drawn to the more artistic side and the beauty of life, and longs to develop his talents in that area. He lives in his own dream-like world, avoiding visiting his father’s office, preferring to spend his time alone, reading and dreaming of what he wants for his future. His love and appreciation of his mother and her beauty pulls him in one direction, the respect given to his father pulls him in another. Eventually, he marries, becomes an author, and he and his wife have six children, although he continues to harbor a somewhat secretive attraction to men. As the political atmosphere thickens throughout Germany, and rumours abound, he makes the decision that they must leave and through connections he’s obtained as a now renowned author, he succeeds in having his family relocate to Switzerland, then France, and eventually to Princeton, New Jersey. America has avoided joining in this war, preferring to believe it is not a problem that affects them. Too late, America, along with the rest of the countries who had counted on it not affecting them, realizes what they are dealing with. Another view of these unforgettable years of life in Germany, this story shares some of the horrors of those years from the observations of Mann, this is an incredibly immersive story. A viewpoint which is equally chilling as time passes and people remain relatively silent to protect themselves from being the next target of oppression executed by a tyrannical dictator with an agenda, and a following who were eager to do his bidding. It also shares the lives after, the effects on those who stayed, the destruction enacted, and the atmosphere that still seems to haunt all those who lived through it after. ’Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.’ - Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr Published: 07 Sept 2021 Many thanks for the ARC provided by Simon & Schuster / Knopf

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ceecee

    This is a novel about Thomas Mann out of whose extensive work I’ve only read one book - Death in Venice. It begins in Lübeck in 1891 where we witness young Thomas and his family especially the impact of his Brazilian born mother Julia on the serious and rather judgemental folk of the provincial city. This part is done very vividly and I rather like the wayward Julia! Thomas is a dreamy child, he has to pretend to interest in the family business which eldest brother Heinrich (also a writer) sees This is a novel about Thomas Mann out of whose extensive work I’ve only read one book - Death in Venice. It begins in Lübeck in 1891 where we witness young Thomas and his family especially the impact of his Brazilian born mother Julia on the serious and rather judgemental folk of the provincial city. This part is done very vividly and I rather like the wayward Julia! Thomas is a dreamy child, he has to pretend to interest in the family business which eldest brother Heinrich (also a writer) sees right through. Toibin traces the beginnings of his realisation of his sexual leanings, his early writing success, to marriage to Katia Pringshelm who bears him six children. It seems Katia turns a blind eye to Mann’s homosexuality. They relocate from Germany following the rise of Hitler and live in Switzerland, Southern France and then the USA. It’s an immersive, very ambitious family saga against a background of almost constant political turmoil. Mann takes a stand against fascism and takes an important role in broadcasts during World War Two. The title comes from the fact that Mann’s children call him The Magician and so you hope for some magic here .... Whilst I can say this is exceptionally well written as you’d expect from an author of this stature and I can also say that I’ve learned a lot about his life, I also feel I don’t really KNOW Mann as a person. He remains elusive, a bit enigmatic, he’s shown as dignified, reflective, exceptionally intellectual and clever (of course) and the authors tone reflects this dignity really well. I wonder if the author has deliberately decided against too much inner man (sorry) because Thomas Mann chooses to wear a disguise for much of his life to hide his sexual leanings and suppress the real him??? It therefore has the feel of non-fiction, more a biography than a work of fiction. The liveliest bits centre around the family, Katia comes across clearly and especially vivid are children Klaus and Erika but all his children are portrayed well. Katia gives us some amusing insights into family life, running a home, managing a husband ‘locked in a dream’ with troublesome children- they sure are, especially Klaus and Erika!! They sure liven up pages, they’re certainly one offs!! The political sections especially the build up to World War Two are very well done and I enjoy those, it’s strange how such a clever man doesn’t read or perceive the reality of the situation in Hitler’s Germany until it’s almost too late. Overall, I’m very glad I’ve read this but in places it is a bit of a slog because the pace rises and falls but as Mann and his family are fascinating it’s worth the effort. With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Penguin General, Viking for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    I'm sorry to say that I didn't get on with this book at all. From the opening page when we hear of an 'August Leverkuhn' it seems clear that the book is going to interpret Mann's life as the source of his literary works (Adrian Leverkuhn is the protagonist of Mann's Doctor Faustus) a stance which, I feel, does a disservice to the imagination and reduces literature to a kind of heightened life, rather than art. That's especially the case with Mann whose books (at least the ones I've read: Death i I'm sorry to say that I didn't get on with this book at all. From the opening page when we hear of an 'August Leverkuhn' it seems clear that the book is going to interpret Mann's life as the source of his literary works (Adrian Leverkuhn is the protagonist of Mann's Doctor Faustus) a stance which, I feel, does a disservice to the imagination and reduces literature to a kind of heightened life, rather than art. That's especially the case with Mann whose books (at least the ones I've read: Death in Venice, The Magic Mountain) are far more complex, weaving in philosophical discussions and ideological debate as well as a sophisticated use of symbolism and figurative writing. After an interesting start (I never knew Mann's mother was Brazilian) this book seems to just skim the surface: one minute Thomas is a young man forced into working for an insurance company, the next he's written Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, is a world-famous author and has won a Nobel prize ('I won the Nobel Prize in Literature,' Thomas said, 'I know what language Dante wrote in') - there's little sense of time passing though we're told it has ('the birth of Thomas's second child was followed three years later by the arrival of Golo') and hardly any significant insight into Mann's intellectual and psychological interests that are so manifest in his writing. There's some homoerotic angst in the early chapters, and some very coy writing about sex where it's completely unclear what's happening, and no real insight into what Mann is feeling - then he decides to marry a woman, and we don't really know why or even know what happens on their wedding night: the book has them lying with Katia's nipples pressed into Thomas' chest... and then it's the next day. I don't mean to sound prurient here but what I'm trying to convey is that there's no sense of interiority about Mann as created in this book. Even the political background is merely sketched in as WW1 is over and done with in a chapter, and the rise of Hitler is an external problem despite Mann having married into a Jewish family: 'Thomas began to lose hope that the regime might fall in Germany. The Nazis, he realised, were not like the poets of the Munich Revolution'. Instead, the character thinks 'it might be best to do nothing'. It's clear from the afterword that Toibin has read a lot about Mann but somehow there's no sense of personality, of intellect or of feeling that inhabits the space demarked as 'Thomas Mann' in the novel - an avatar goes through the motions of Mann's life almost like a series of tick-boxes, but none of it feels lived. And the character of Mann presented here just doesn't track with the writer who so magisterially analysed ideologies and the soul of a 'sick' Europe in The Magic Mountain, a book which is also alight with a dynamic irony and a sense of humour, something never conveyed here. Perhaps the pressure to articulate the whole of a complex life that stretched from 1875-1955 was just too much. This is a book I was looking forward to hugely but after crawling through to 50% and finding it dry, 'told' and wooden, I'm abandoning it. Apologies to Penguin who kindly provided me with an ARC via NetGalley.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vesna

    A masterpiece. Too many quotes, too many thoughts to share,... need time to find the words that can do justice to this magnificent fictionalized biography and its amazing writer. A book of the year. I finally got around to write my review. Here it is. Stylistically flawless and impeccably paced, this fictional biography of Thomas Mann is neither judgmental nor hagiographic, but admirably immersive into its subject, showing many years of extensive research and written with penetrating insights into A masterpiece. Too many quotes, too many thoughts to share,... need time to find the words that can do justice to this magnificent fictionalized biography and its amazing writer. A book of the year. I finally got around to write my review. Here it is. Stylistically flawless and impeccably paced, this fictional biography of Thomas Mann is neither judgmental nor hagiographic, but admirably immersive into its subject, showing many years of extensive research and written with penetrating insights into complicated relations between Mann’s inner mind, as reflected in his fiction, essays, and diaries, and his outward public and family life. Toíbín’s story-telling is multi-layered and the novel also reads as a fascinating family saga, a historical tour de force through the political turmoils from World War I through the rise of fascism to the Cold War, all at once with penetrating literary insights into Mann’s major novels and stories (especially, Buddenbrooks, The Blood of the Walsungs [Wälsungenblut], Death in Venice, The Magic Mountain, Doctor Faustus, Felix Krull). At one level, it’s a story of a man who found himself at the political crossroads in the most dramatic period of modern history, whose personality was too cautious to be as outspoken as his brother Heinrich or son Klaus, but who nonetheless had the moral fortitude to stand up to the darkness of fascism in his own way, through his rescue arrangements for all of his children and a score of friends, his refusals to be silenced, his difficult decision to part from his beloved Germany of Goethe the moment his naive hopes that Hitler would never seize power shattered, and above all in his writings, whether through allegories in his fiction or direct pleas to reason, freedom, and (social) democracy in his later speeches. The book narrates the turbulent first half of the 20th century, from the upheavals in Germany and Europe, World War II to the McCarthyist witch-hunt in the early years of the Cold War, as mirrored in the destinies of the Mann family, their constant search for new citizenships and a sense of home as émigrés constantly on the move from Switzerland to France, back to Switzerland, then to America and again back to Switzerland (“he had been brutally hounded out of Germany and politely ushered out of America”). It is also a family saga, first of the Manns in Lübeck with four siblings, two of whom eventually committed suicide (both sisters), one brother (Viktor) later comfortably living under Nazism while the other (Heinrich) hounded by the same regime but also in the perpetual sibling rivalry with Thomas, both over their literary merits and political beliefs …Thomas accused as too timid by Heinrich, Thomas in turn seeing Heinrich as too foolish in his radical leftist leanings. Then there is the family life with the in-laws Pringsheims, his wife Katia’s wealthy and cultivated family in Munich, their shared love of Wagner and Mahler (a family friend), the world of literature, arts, music, cafés and opera in Munich at the times of the nascent democracy but also chaos and inflation in the 1920s. The heart of the family saga, however, is Thomas Mann’s life with his wife Katia and their six children, each of whom could be a subject of a separate novel, their escapades, follies, eccentricities, marriages, homosexual lovers, losses (Klaus committed suicide). None of them close to their father, under whose shadow as a literary giant their lives were defined as “lesser achievements”. Their father’s aloofness and retreat into the world of writing alienated them to never have a sense of gratitude for his financial support throughout their lives and his desperate search for their rescue from an almost certain death had they stayed in Germany. Leaving it to practical and protective Katia to discipline their children, he tried to endear them with humor and by playing tricks, hence their nickname for him ‘Magician’ remained for the rest of their lives. Toíbín masterfully gives voice to Katia, whose gentle yet formidable presence is felt throughout the novel. A mother who took care of their children’s upbringing while guarding her husband from intruders, she was practical, fearless, cosmopolitan, cultivated, humane, in some ways eccentric while in others traditional, her husband’s soulmate. Besides entering the complicated world of the Mann family, we also retreat with him into his study, his inner life into which he escapes from the contradictions around him and inside him. It’s all reflected in his novels and stories and, if I were to highlight only one of many fascinating layers in this novel, it would be the magical skill with which Toíbín submerges himself into Mann’s creative writing in which Mann often sublimates his complicated relations with his children, extended family, other German émigrés, his own sexuality (his homoerotic infatuations), and disillusionment with his beloved Germany. I found it impossible to single out illustrative quotes as there are too many, and one I initially had in mind would have almost extended to an entire chapter, which just shows how wholeheartedly I recommend everyone to read this book, whether familiar with Mann’s writings or not. That said, I’ll sample one illustration of how Toíbín interprets and describes the genesis of Mann’s Doctor Faustus, as a duality of himself at a psychological level but also Germany at a political level. The scene is at his house at the Pacific Palisades, while listening to Beethoven’s string quartet op. 132 (at his request) played by his son Michael and his quartet.There were two men that he did not become and he might make a book from them if he could conjure up their spirits properly. One was himself without his talent, without his ambition, but with the same sensibility. Someone fully at ease in a German democracy. A man who liked chamber music, lyric poetry, domestic quietness, gradual reform. A man, all conscience, who would have stayed in Germany even as Germany became barbaric, living a fearful life as an internal exile. The other man was someone who did not know caution, whose imagination was as fiery and uncompromising as his sexual appetite, a man who destroyed those who loved him, who sought to make an art that was austere and contemptuous of all tradition, an art as dangerous as the world coming into shape. A man who had been brushed by demons, whose talent was the result of a pact with demons. […] Music made him unstable. But as he followed the short movement with its lovely march beats and dance beats, and then the final movement with its lack of hesitancy, its flowing elegance, he felt that the two men he had imagined, the two shadow versions of who he was, would not leave him, as other such imaginings had left him. They would fit into what he had already been dreaming of, his book about a composer who, like Faust, formed a pact with the devil. [a few passages later]… It was the very culture itself, he thought, the actual culture that had formed him and people like him, that contained the seeds of its own destruction.Toward the end of the novel, Toíbín beautifully interpolates an episode from Bach’s famous visit to Buxtehude in Lübeck with Mann’s nostalgic reminiscences of his childhood, mother, siblings, the demolished Buddenbrook house, the vanished world of yesterday… I realized how much Toíbín succeeded to emotionally involve his reader with all of their lives that when I re-read the last pages, this time wanting to share them aloud with my SO, I was surprised that I had difficulty holding back my tears (don’t want to sound melodramatic, but that’s true). My thanks to Scribner for an ARC via NetGalley.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    This book is a well executed, comprehensive novelistic biography of the famous German author Thomas Mann but one which I found engaged my interest far more than my emotions or literary sensibilities. This book was I suspect years in the conception (Colm Toibin wrote a detailed article on the Mann family – in particular his two oldest children Klaus and Erika - for the London Review of Books in 2008 – the article like so many LRB articles ostensibly a review of another author’s non-fiction book bu This book is a well executed, comprehensive novelistic biography of the famous German author Thomas Mann but one which I found engaged my interest far more than my emotions or literary sensibilities. This book was I suspect years in the conception (Colm Toibin wrote a detailed article on the Mann family – in particular his two oldest children Klaus and Erika - for the London Review of Books in 2008 – the article like so many LRB articles ostensibly a review of another author’s non-fiction book but instead a platform for the article’s author to include their own researches and ideas into the same topic). The acknowledgements to this novel also make it clear that the book has been meticulously researched. Overall I found it a very interesting and largely engrossing account which despite its length I read over a 24 hour period (I actually found that the best way to keep track of the many characters). I do not really know Thomas Mann at all or his stories (beyond a few of their titles and a very high level summary of them) and it was certainly interesting to read of his life – particularly the way that he bridged a tumultuous period in Germany’s history (from pre World War I, through the Munich revolution to the rise of the Nazis, through World War II and into the partition of the country) and yet one also of huge artistic progression in Germany and Austria across literature, opera and music – with many famous artists featuring in the book (not least Mann’s own extended family). Mann himself did not come across that well in the novel to me – for all his literary brilliance always rather playing catch up with the world and seemingly taken by surprise by the dramatic and often terrible developments in Germany (one has the sense that his own rather privileged lifestyle as well as self-absorption in his own writing lead to a permanently unfulfilled belief in the triumph of reason and rationality and convention) – but this was nevertheless interesting. I felt though always that I was effectively reading a non-fiction account in fictional clothing. Now this approach removed much of what can make conventional non-fictional biographies both tedious (the lengthy footnotes and references, the constant setting out of the contrary views of previous biographers with the author’s own conclusions and occasional score-settling) and rather infuriating (the attempts to speculate on what the subject may have been feeling or may have experienced). But what it failed to do, at least for me, was to really add sufficiently to the biographical form. Due to my limited knowledge of Thomas Mann I found myself using Wikipedia extensively in the early stages of the novel – just to get my bearings. And what I found was that very little in the novel seemed to be imagined – time and time again anecdotes set out (some of which I had assumed to be at least partly imaginary or created – typically say incidents in Mann’s life which inspired some of the more famous scenes or characters in his books or some of the relationships of the extended Mann family) were readily available on the internet as widely accepted factual detail. What I missed was the literary imagination of say an Ali Smith and her Seasonal Quartet (or say Jean Jean Frémon in “Now, Now Louison”) in allowing a real encounter with an artist and their work. My thanks to Penguin Random House, Jonathan Cape for an ARC via NetGalley

  9. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    Thomas Mann, acclaimed author of Death in Venice and many other books and novellas, is the focus of this book where fiction and nonfiction blend. This book begins with Thomas as a child growing up in a provincial German city. His father was conservative, and his mother was an alluring Brazilian woman. From an early age, he wanted to write. He was creative and artistic but that did not go over well with his father. He had to hide his writing and his sexuality. He eventually married Katia Pringshe Thomas Mann, acclaimed author of Death in Venice and many other books and novellas, is the focus of this book where fiction and nonfiction blend. This book begins with Thomas as a child growing up in a provincial German city. His father was conservative, and his mother was an alluring Brazilian woman. From an early age, he wanted to write. He was creative and artistic but that did not go over well with his father. He had to hide his writing and his sexuality. He eventually married Katia Pringshelm and they have six children. It is his children who referred to him as "The Magician" Mann repressed his sexuality and crushes. One thing he did not repress was his writing ability and his success enabled him to move his family various times. He was a man who saw and experienced many things - political upheaval, world wars I & II, suicide, loss of loved ones, and success in his field. What a life he must have led. Hiding his homosexuality, having hidden crushes while being a husband and father in a world in constant upheaval. There was a tremendous amount of research that went into the writing of this book. It is very evident, and this is the strength of this novel. What I would have liked more of Mann's thoughts, feelings, etc. This would have made this book more interesting to me. I was all over the place with reviewing this book. The writing is top notch, and the research is impressive, but parts fell flat for me. I enjoyed this but didn't love it. I have never read a book by Thomas Mann - I know *gasp* perhaps if I had been a fan or even familiar with his work, I may have enjoyed this book more. I felt that I was being told about Mann (which I was) but I didn't really feel as if his personality shined through. I guess one could say that I wanted a little more pizzazz. I would have loved seeing Mann's inner thoughts and struggles. This is a long book and it felt long at times. Again, a little Pizzazz would have made this better for me. Some are enjoying this more than I did so please read their reviews as well. Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own. Read more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com

  10. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    I didn’t know anything about Thomas Mann’s life, and I hadn’t realized that “Buddenbrooks” was, at least in part, autobiographical. This book is a fictional account of Mann’s life from his childhood to his death. He married, had six children, became a successful author and unsuccessfully hid his attraction to beautiful young men (including members of his family if this book is to be believed). This book was slow and long, but it did hold my interest, however it wasn’t nearly as good as “Buddenbr I didn’t know anything about Thomas Mann’s life, and I hadn’t realized that “Buddenbrooks” was, at least in part, autobiographical. This book is a fictional account of Mann’s life from his childhood to his death. He married, had six children, became a successful author and unsuccessfully hid his attraction to beautiful young men (including members of his family if this book is to be believed). This book was slow and long, but it did hold my interest, however it wasn’t nearly as good as “Buddenbrooks”. I think that if I want to know more about Mann (which I don’t particularly want to do) I will read a nonfiction account. 3.5 stars I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

    Colm Toibin brilliantly wrote The Magician which blended fact with fiction. It was an intimate exploration of the life of the intriguing and talented German author, Thomas Mann, best know for his literary contributions of Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain. Mann was the recipient of The Nobel Prize. Toibin traced Thomas Mann’s life beginning in 1891 and followed it through both World Wars, the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, as he escaped to America and finally came full circle when he made hi Colm Toibin brilliantly wrote The Magician which blended fact with fiction. It was an intimate exploration of the life of the intriguing and talented German author, Thomas Mann, best know for his literary contributions of Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain. Mann was the recipient of The Nobel Prize. Toibin traced Thomas Mann’s life beginning in 1891 and followed it through both World Wars, the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, as he escaped to America and finally came full circle when he made his way back to Europe.near the end of his life in the 1950’s. Thomas Mann grew up in Lubeck, Germany with two brothers and two sisters. He was the second oldest son of a Brazilian born mother and domineering and strict German father. Thomas’s family was well liked, respected and lived a comfortable life. His father died at a young age of natural causes. Thomas’s homosexuality was quite apparent from the early years when he was in his teens. His mother wanted Thomas to learn a business after his father died. Thomas had no interest in doing this. He was determined to become a writer. Thomas had been infatuated with Katia and her twin brother for years. He was able to get an introduction to Katia and an invitation to a party at her family’s home. Thomas was determined to marry Katia and she finally relented. They had six children together during their marriage. Katia and Thomas had an understanding from the very beginning. His novels earned Thomas recognition and eventually fame. He became a Noble Prize recipient. Thomas and Katia lived a quiet but comfortable life at their home in Munich. When Hitler came to power, Thomas and Katia knew that they had to escape Germany. Their lives were in jeopardy. Fortunately, Thomas, Katia and their children were able to escape from Germany. Thomas and Katia immigrated to America and settled in Princeton, New Jersey. Thomas was a man of routine and his routine rarely differed. His reputation and recognition became greater with each novel he wrote and each lecture he delivered. Eventually, Thomas and Katia moved to California and then to Switzerland when the repercussions of the Cold War became too taxing for the family. Thomas did visit Germany near the end of his life. This was Colm Toibin’s tenth novel but the first that I have read. I was impressed with his execution, writing and research. He offered a window into Thomas Mann’s life and circumstances. I learned a lot about Thomas Mann as a person and the conflicts he struggled with throughout his life. His children and siblings were described in great detail. I enjoyed reading The Magician and recommend it very highly. Publication is September 7, 2021. Thank you to Scribner Publishers for allowing me to read this digital version of The Magician through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    The Magician tells the life story of Thomas Mann, an early-to-mid 20th century German writer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novel The Magic Mountain, and who was later revealed to be gay (or at least bisexual), following the unsealing of his diaries in the late 1990s, several decades after his death. Colm Toibin (himself a gay novelist, which might have informed/drawn him to this project?) has clearly done his research for this novel, and covers the periods of Mann’s major works The Magician tells the life story of Thomas Mann, an early-to-mid 20th century German writer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novel The Magic Mountain, and who was later revealed to be gay (or at least bisexual), following the unsealing of his diaries in the late 1990s, several decades after his death. Colm Toibin (himself a gay novelist, which might have informed/drawn him to this project?) has clearly done his research for this novel, and covers the periods of Mann’s major works: Buddenbrooks, Death in Venice, The Magic Mountain, Doctor Faustus, and Felix Krull. We see Mann discover his sexuality as a teenager and become involved with several men, before meeting his wife Katia, and then his homosexuality seems to be confined to his diaries, though it does feature in his work (most notably in Death in Venice). Together they had six children: Erika, Klaus (both of whom were also gay but out and not closeted like their dad), Golo, Monika, Elizabeth, and Michael, and lived through both world wars. The Manns did better than most through the post-WW1 inflation years in Germany, thanks to Thomas’ books selling well abroad, but the family fled the country once Hitler rose to power, eventually settling in America until returning to Europe after the war. I didn’t know much about Thomas Mann before this so everything in The Magician was new to me, and I thought it was all really interesting stuff. Toibin picks the most compelling times in Mann’s life to write about so the narrative is consistently engaging throughout. He’s also wonderfully adept at characterisation, bringing Mann’s family and the times they were alive in convincingly to life, so that you get a strong idea of who they were like as people, as well as what life was like during late 19th century Germany, the Weimar Republic, the war years in America, and Europe in the aftermath of WW2. The only real criticism I would give the novel is that, ironically, Thomas Mann himself, despite being the subject of the novel, remains somewhat inscrutable even after all of it. As well as Toibin does in writing all of the characters in this novel, I left the novel not really knowing what to make of Thomas. When his son Michael speaks to him as an adult, there’s palpable bitterness and hatred from the son to his father, which was surprising because Toibin didn’t really show us any scenes where Thomas was a bad father that would explain Michael’s animosity towards his dad. Yes, it is mentioned in passing by Katia that Thomas is a distant father who doesn’t really play with his children (though he does do magic tricks at the dinner table for them when they’re young - hence the title), so I guess that explains why Michael (really all of Thomas’ children) didn’t like their dad? It’s odd because you don’t get the sense, until the scenes when the children are grown up, that Thomas failed them in any serious way, and I think that’s due to Toibin not writing anything to indicate that. So why omit scenes that would let us know Thomas better? Perhaps Toibin thought that by making Mann distant, he would be true to the person and that this was the best representation of his character. It’s not to say that there is no insight into his inner life - there is, particularly with his enduring fascination with young men - but I was expecting Toibin to delve deeper into Mann than stay more or less surface level. You expect to come away from a novel about a person having a fuller understanding of who they were than not, and he could’ve done that with fiction, rather than stay so steadfastly within the boundaries of nonfiction. It feels like a wasted opportunity. The overall effect is a bit like Toibin almost wrote a nonfiction biography here. The novel aspects make it seem like those documentaries which include occasional dramatised scenes featuring actors because no footage exists. It’s not a huge complaint but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Overall, I really enjoyed the novel. Thomas Mann led an interesting life during tumultuous times and Toibin takes us through it with smooth prose and engaging storytelling, full of illuminating details. Colm Toibin’s The Magician is well worth checking out for anyone interested in the writer and/or well-written and accessible historical/biographical novels.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    The Magician is the fictional biographical account of Thomas Mann. The Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain. Unfortunately I have not read either one. This book reads more like a biography than a novel. It is filled with details and descriptions of the time and place. Thomas Mann was very good at hiding his true feelings. He keeps sexual preferences a secret and marries and has 6 children I enjoyed very much the vivid characterizations of his family. His ch The Magician is the fictional biographical account of Thomas Mann. The Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain. Unfortunately I have not read either one. This book reads more like a biography than a novel. It is filled with details and descriptions of the time and place. Thomas Mann was very good at hiding his true feelings. He keeps sexual preferences a secret and marries and has 6 children I enjoyed very much the vivid characterizations of his family. His children called him The Magician as he would show them tricks and magic. It was very interesting about his experiences during the war, being German having to escape to the US. It was very well researched but drags on and on in places with mundane details. I felt I didn’t know who Thomas Mann really was. He seemed to suppress his feelings and went on with life. I would have liked to known more of the inner self of Thomas Mann.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    not entirely sure what Tóibín was going for here, there's too much straight biography to be a novel, too much novel to be a biography. he also seems to have entirely sacrificed his authorial voice/style in order to create this book, not to say it is badly written but if I read it blind I'd never have guessed it was Tóibín. however it is extremely fun, particularly when Tóibín gets a chance to ventriloquise figures such as Auden and Isherwood. clearly a passion project from Colm. good for him. not entirely sure what Tóibín was going for here, there's too much straight biography to be a novel, too much novel to be a biography. he also seems to have entirely sacrificed his authorial voice/style in order to create this book, not to say it is badly written but if I read it blind I'd never have guessed it was Tóibín. however it is extremely fun, particularly when Tóibín gets a chance to ventriloquise figures such as Auden and Isherwood. clearly a passion project from Colm. good for him.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    This beautifully written book is a fictionalized biography of Thomas Mann, the German author. It begins with Thomas as a school boy in Lubeck, son of a prominent family who will become even more well known when he publishes his first novel, Buddenbrooks, at the young age of 23. Encompassing most of his life, it spans the years from 1891 to the early 1950s. Mann’s life and work had as its base the major events of those decades: World War I; the defeat of Germany accompanied by political and socia This beautifully written book is a fictionalized biography of Thomas Mann, the German author. It begins with Thomas as a school boy in Lubeck, son of a prominent family who will become even more well known when he publishes his first novel, Buddenbrooks, at the young age of 23. Encompassing most of his life, it spans the years from 1891 to the early 1950s. Mann’s life and work had as its base the major events of those decades: World War I; the defeat of Germany accompanied by political and social instability and revolts; the rise and eventual takeover of the Nazi party in Germany; the Mann family in exile in Europe; Thomas Mann in the United States; the post WWII Cold War and return to Europe. Against this background are the constants of Thomas’s life: his relationships with his family, his obsessive writing schedule, his wife Katia, and his longing for beautiful young men. To be continued… A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    A Goodreads friend expertly summed up my feeling about The Magician: at the end of the day, I felt I was reading a non-fiction account in fictional clothing. Nicknamed The Magician by his children, Thomas Mann remains a well-respected writer and his novels have stood the test of time. I know his books but never knew much about his background: his pretentious mother, his burning desire to become a writer, his marriage to a wealthy, Jewish and boy-like wife (while his proclivities were more towards A Goodreads friend expertly summed up my feeling about The Magician: at the end of the day, I felt I was reading a non-fiction account in fictional clothing. Nicknamed The Magician by his children, Thomas Mann remains a well-respected writer and his novels have stood the test of time. I know his books but never knew much about his background: his pretentious mother, his burning desire to become a writer, his marriage to a wealthy, Jewish and boy-like wife (while his proclivities were more towards his wife’s beautiful twin brother), and his unconventional partnership which produced six children. Juxtaposed with the story of his life is the story of Germany—its sparking of two World Wars, and Mann’s own loss of his homes and exile to America. Colm Toibin has obviously done exhaustive research but as a reader of fiction I wanted more I wanted Thomas Mann’s inner thoughts to come alive and I wanted Colm Toibin to imagine Mann as well as narrate his life. This novel deserves kudos for its contribution of a greater understanding of the forces and circumstances that created Thomas Mann. As a result, it will appeal to readers who appreciate that kind of scholarly reportage. Thank you to Scribner for allowing me to be an early reader of this ambitious and in many ways, masterly novel.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Although I have read several of Mann's works, it was decades ago and my memory of them is not sharp. I chose The Magician, thinking of gaining some insight into what made Mann's work important when set against life in Germany during a most turbulent time in its history. I must admit that although I usually like the works of Colm Tóibín, this one never really left the ground for me. There are some lovely moments of sensuality, but novelizations of actual lives have never been a favorite genre of Although I have read several of Mann's works, it was decades ago and my memory of them is not sharp. I chose The Magician, thinking of gaining some insight into what made Mann's work important when set against life in Germany during a most turbulent time in its history. I must admit that although I usually like the works of Colm Tóibín, this one never really left the ground for me. There are some lovely moments of sensuality, but novelizations of actual lives have never been a favorite genre of mine (I remember throwing a book about Josephine and Napoleon across the room when I was 15). After reading the works of Hans Fallada and Irene Nemerovsky, which novelized their lives during the same period, reading fictionalized bios only made me impatient for the actual experience. Admitting that this is a fault of mine and not necessarily the author, I give up on this genre.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    A masterful fictionalised biography of Nobel prizewinning author, Thomas Mann, encompassing his entire life from his childhood in Lubeck to his last days in Switzerland. Although I’ve only read Death in Venice, it was fascinating to read about the people and places that influenced and inspired his other works. Toibin not only gives us a detailed account of Thomas Mann’s life, he also covers in some depth that of his brother, Heinrich, as well as those of his own extraordinary children, all of wh A masterful fictionalised biography of Nobel prizewinning author, Thomas Mann, encompassing his entire life from his childhood in Lubeck to his last days in Switzerland. Although I’ve only read Death in Venice, it was fascinating to read about the people and places that influenced and inspired his other works. Toibin not only gives us a detailed account of Thomas Mann’s life, he also covers in some depth that of his brother, Heinrich, as well as those of his own extraordinary children, all of whom had distinguished, if in some cases chequered, careers. I often found the lives and personalities of the children much more interesting than Mann’s own. Mann comes across as a complex character with little personal warmth or charisma. He is rather pompous and self satisfied with his success and I felt nothing for him at all most of the time. We occasionally see a lighter side. His children nicknamed him The Magician because he would show them magic tricks and tell them magical stories. It seems odd then that he had such a difficult relationship with some of them. I enjoyed the breadth of history his life spanned, through World Wars I and II to the Cold War, and his changing fortunes as various governments and politicians used him for propaganda purposes. His despair at the rise of Nazi Germany and his disgust with his fellow Germans for supporting Hitler led him to seek refuge in the USA, a country that feted him until he visited East Germany after the war. As the paranoia about communism rose so the Manns were treated with increasing suspicion, leading to most of them leaving the country for good. 4 stars as it was a long read and I felt strangely removed from what sometimes felt like a rather clinical account. With thanks to Penguin UK and NetGalley for a review copy.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sketchbook

    The last pages here make this a powerful book: The Nobel-winning (1929) Thomas Mann left Germany because of his outspoken defiance of Hitler and settled in southern California. Then, the post-war authoritarian climate in Washington, D.C., forced him to pack up yet again in 1952 and move back to Europe, this time Switzerland, his last stop on the precarious refugee road. Mann hoped to spend his final years in Pacific Palisades, Ca., home to a large emigre colony. He learned that many in Germany w The last pages here make this a powerful book: The Nobel-winning (1929) Thomas Mann left Germany because of his outspoken defiance of Hitler and settled in southern California. Then, the post-war authoritarian climate in Washington, D.C., forced him to pack up yet again in 1952 and move back to Europe, this time Switzerland, his last stop on the precarious refugee road. Mann hoped to spend his final years in Pacific Palisades, Ca., home to a large emigre colony. He learned that many in Germany were vexed that he didnt wish to return there postwar2. "No one objected when I left in 1933," he says in this fact-fiction book, "but now they think I have a duty to return." Meantime, the 200th anniversary of Goethe was coming up; he would be giving lectures on this occasion here and abroad. His daughter Ericka did not want him to visit Germany. Always politically active, Ericka was astonished when German newspapers called her an agent of Stalin without any evidence. (I think of Hillary hurling similar charges against Tulsi Gabbard). Mann agreed to several Goethe lectures in Germany, 1949. It turned out that the US, exerting pressure, did not want him to lecture in East Germany at all. Since the German language was not separated into zones, Mann argued, he saw no reason why he should not visit every part of Germany. It would also emphasize, he felt, the essential unity of Germany. Anyway, off he went. Key figures in the US were outraged. Back in California, he found himself branded as a Communist. Agnes Meyer, the mother of Kay Graham, who unofficially "ran" the town as her husband owned the DC Post, told him that he was now referred to as "America's Fellow Traveler No. 1." A chunk of the mainstream media tarnished his reputation as a man of reason. It was far beneath his dignity to write to the newspapers to announce that he was not a Communist! Soon the FBI interviewed Erika. She snapped : of course she was a lesbian, so was Queen Victoria and Eleanor Roosevelt and Mae West and Doris Day! The FBI was not amused. Author Toibin writes that for the first time in his life Mann had nothing to lose and no one to impress. He now had no desire to rest his bones in America. Yes, he could speak the truth, but there was another truth: he was no longer welcome in America. At one time his departure would have been headline news; not any more. This book has a big cast of characters to keep track of. The story, with suggestions of incest, suicides and complicated lives, particularly that of Thomas Mann's own same sex lust, carries the melodrama of a Wagnerian opera. Author Toibin purposefully writes in a calm, emotionless style...which marvelously serves the personal and political narrative of chaotic, exploding worlds.

  20. 5 out of 5

    ♥ Sandi ❣

    3.5 stars Thank you to Book Club Favorites at Simon & Schuster for the free copy for review. Publishes September 7, 2021. Although described as fiction, this book is about as biographical as a nonfiction biography can be. Tóibín, himself a master writer, took on the life and works of Thomas Mann (1875 to 1955), prized author and Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1929. Mann writes his most popular book, in 1924, The Magic Mountain, based on his wife's tenure at a sanatorium. Mann's life from ab 3.5 stars Thank you to Book Club Favorites at Simon & Schuster for the free copy for review. Publishes September 7, 2021. Although described as fiction, this book is about as biographical as a nonfiction biography can be. Tóibín, himself a master writer, took on the life and works of Thomas Mann (1875 to 1955), prized author and Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1929. Mann writes his most popular book, in 1924, The Magic Mountain, based on his wife's tenure at a sanatorium. Mann's life from about 15 years of age to his death at 80 is reviewed within the 512 pages of this book. How he becomes a writer, his marriage, his six children and his beliefs - parental, political, and philosophical. Mann is a homosexual, who never revels that, but goes on to father children who followed in his footsteps and were much more vocal about their disposition. Three of his six children also became well known German writers later in life. This book travels throughout Mann's life - often on the antics of his children. Mann is a staunch German, behind the regime during WWI, and not believing the horrors Hitler will bestow on his homeland, even though his adult children and his brother warn him at every conversation. He only believes and changes when he is run from his beloved Germany, his wealth and home confiscated, in exile for 16 years. It is then he changes his political views more toward democracy. During the Cold War, while living in the United States, "Mann is a 'suspected communist', and he was required to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he was termed "one of the world's foremost apologists for Stalin and company." He was listed as being "affiliated with various peace organizations or Communist fronts." Being in his own words a non-communist rather than an anti-communist, Mann openly opposed the allegations: "As an American citizen of German birth I finally testify that I am painfully familiar with certain political trends. Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions, and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged 'state of emergency.' ... That is how it started in Germany." Mann joined protests against the jailing of the Hollywood Ten and the firing of schoolteachers suspected of being Communists. Finally he was forced to quit his position as Consultant in Germanic Literature at the Library of Congress and in 1952 he returned to Europe, to live near Zürich, Switzerland. He died in August 1955 of an aneurysm. He never again lived in Germany". Tóibín's interruption of Mann is quite long, but never tedious or dull. The story, in cased within one family, as it is, moves right along. It helps to know going into this book that this will be the life story of Thomas Mann. The sooner you focus your attention on this one man and his family the smoother the story and more realistic your expectations of this book will be. Having read a few of Tóibín's books, I find this one to be middle of the road for me. Not a bad book, by any means, but not my favorite either. A bit longer than most, but written in exceptional form and excellent command.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Over the years I have read two or three of Colm Toibin’s books and, I must admit, that I have sometimes admired, but rarely been gripped by them. I think his style is often fairly dry, but somehow this suited this fictional biography (which is the only way I can describe this book) of Thomas Mann. I cannot in any way claim to be knowledgeable about Thomas Mann, although “The Magic Mountain,” is definitely in my top ten favourite books and is a novel that I have returned to more than once. I thin Over the years I have read two or three of Colm Toibin’s books and, I must admit, that I have sometimes admired, but rarely been gripped by them. I think his style is often fairly dry, but somehow this suited this fictional biography (which is the only way I can describe this book) of Thomas Mann. I cannot in any way claim to be knowledgeable about Thomas Mann, although “The Magic Mountain,” is definitely in my top ten favourite books and is a novel that I have returned to more than once. I think my lack of specific knowledge was a positive thing here, though, as I was fascinated to learn about this author, whose work has remained popular when, as it is shown in this novel, his brother – Heinrich – who had early success, started out looking to overshadow his younger sibling. There is much about siblings in, “The Magician.” Heinrich, Thomas, siters Lula and Carla, and younger brother Victor, make a family group in conventional Lubeck, where the Mann’s grew up, with their hard-working father, and lively, Brazilian father. Then there is Thomas Mann’s wife, Katia, whose twin, Klaus, often mirrors the behaviour of Thomas and Katia’s eldest son, named for his uncle. The two eldest of their children, Klaus and Erika are flamboyant and self-contained, and, in much the same way that Thomas and his own siblings created alliances, his six children also have unions, affiliations and interrelations. As well as the central theme of family, there is also much about Thomas Mann’s sexuality, his rather touching entrancement of various young men. This is very much an open secret, with his wife and daughter, at one point, conspiring to arrange for a young waiter that the author found attractive, to serve him lunch, alone on a terrace. This is very much a secret life, which Mann hugs tight to himself, remembering often innocuous encounters and recalling them in detail. He is also not averse to using his life for his work and there is much about what inspired his great works. I can see this book already has mixed reviews, but I absolutely loved it and am sorry that I have finished it. Hopefully, it will also lead readers to discover Thomas Mann’s work, if they have not already done so. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review, but will certainly buy a copy on publication.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    The Magician by Colm Toibin imagines the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Mann. This multi-generational family drama is set against the tumultuous changes experienced by the German people in the 20th c. and I found that aspect of the book as interesting as Mann’s personal life. Mann appears stolid and conventional, but he struggles with illicit desires. His wife accepts him but also curtails social interactions to protect him from temptation. He cannibalizes his life for his books, ne The Magician by Colm Toibin imagines the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Mann. This multi-generational family drama is set against the tumultuous changes experienced by the German people in the 20th c. and I found that aspect of the book as interesting as Mann’s personal life. Mann appears stolid and conventional, but he struggles with illicit desires. His wife accepts him but also curtails social interactions to protect him from temptation. He cannibalizes his life for his books, neglecting his biological children to birth his stories. He wrote about his family and his wife’s time in a sanitarium. People recognized a portrait of his grandson in a scene. The oldest children come to age between the wars, living Bohemian and sexually adventurous lives. One daughter marries W. H. Auden, a known homosexual, while another chooses a much older man. The children’s lives are more colorful than their father’s; they are politically active during the rise of the Nazis, while their father will not say anything that would impact the sales of his books or his publisher. He did not think for a moment that the Nazis would ever take power. from The Magician by Colm Toibin The rise of the Nazis took Mann by surprise. His wife was from a secular Jewish family. The Manns had to flee their home, given refuge first at Princeton University before they settled in California. Mann’s speeches extolled freedom and democracy. He was under governmental pressure not to challenge the American stance of neutrality. His family and friends took sides in the political divisions, giving a full picture of German politics. Mann believed that the seeds of Germany’s destruction lay in its own culture; even the romantic music of Germany ‘had helped to nourish a raw mindlessness that had now become brutality.” “Don’t you see what is happening,” one of the Mann children’s friends warned before he kills himself. Even after the defeat of Hitler, Mann and his wife cannot accept how their fellow countrymen allowed and abetted the rise of fascism. It is chilling to recognize how easily people of intelligence and education can underestimate military hate groups and what they consider ‘crackpot’ wannabe dictators. What happened in the 1930s was not an anomaly. Democracies die. Books are burned. Hate finds a victim. I love Toibin’s Brooklyn and Nora Webster and trusted his pen.The Magician is an immense undertaking and I was impressed by it. And yet, I had great difficulty reviewing the book. It took me days before I realized why–I just did not like Thomas Mann. I understood him, perhaps, but I did not like him. I was uncomfortable with his fixation on the beauty of young boys. I was disappointed that he did not speak out against the Nazis as did his brother and children. He was unable to adapt to necessary changes. He was self-focused. And when I read Death in Venice, which is a remarkable work, my discomfort was multiplied. I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    I was drawn to this after reading the synopsis and my fondness to historical fiction. The Magician tells the story of Thomas Mann, whose life was filled with great acclaim and contradiction. He would find himself on the wrong side of history in the First World War, cheerleading the German army, but have a clear vision of the future in the second, anticipating the horrors of Nazism. He would have six children and keep his homosexuality hidden; he was a man forever connected to his family and yet bo I was drawn to this after reading the synopsis and my fondness to historical fiction. The Magician tells the story of Thomas Mann, whose life was filled with great acclaim and contradiction. He would find himself on the wrong side of history in the First World War, cheerleading the German army, but have a clear vision of the future in the second, anticipating the horrors of Nazism. He would have six children and keep his homosexuality hidden; he was a man forever connected to his family and yet bore witness to the ravages of suicide. He would write some of the greatest works of European literature, and win the Nobel Prize, but would never return to the country that inspired his creativity. The book is well written as you would expect from an author of Colm Toibin’s reputation but for me it didn’t get any better and became an ok read. This promised so much but left me feeling disappointed to what might have been. I would like to thank both Net Galley and Penguin UK for supplying a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Smith Writes

    Prior to reading The Magician, my knowledge of Thomas Mann could be summed up as ‘German, wrote Death in Venice’. What I didn’t know about Thomas Mann – apart from everything – was this: ‘After Einstein, you are the most important German alive.’ The Magician, so named after the nickname given to Thomas by his eldest daughter in childhood, is the sort of novel I love best. A sweeping and grand tale about a family within the context of a changing world. The politics, the art, the literature and musi Prior to reading The Magician, my knowledge of Thomas Mann could be summed up as ‘German, wrote Death in Venice’. What I didn’t know about Thomas Mann – apart from everything – was this: ‘After Einstein, you are the most important German alive.’ The Magician, so named after the nickname given to Thomas by his eldest daughter in childhood, is the sort of novel I love best. A sweeping and grand tale about a family within the context of a changing world. The politics, the art, the literature and music, the morality; this is more than a novel about the life of Thomas Mann, it is a history of the rise and fall of early 20th century Germany and the imprint this left upon its people, and the wider world. Tóibín writes like no other author, and I was completely swept away by this novel. We are with Thomas Mann from teenager to the age of eighty, getting to know not just him, but his parents and siblings, and then his wife and children, and beyond that, grandchildren, as well as all the other people who moved in and out of his long life. Through all these interactions and relationships, we see history unfold in an intricate way. The novel is so well informed, as you would expect from Tóibín, and not knowing anything about Thomas Mann prior to reading, I am not in any position to reflect upon the accuracy of this novel, nor would I even want to, as to do so would tarnish the reading experience. There is humour alongside great tragedy, a mix of devotion and destruction when it comes to the interactions between members of the Mann family. The two eldest children grow into their own fame and notoriety; each of the six have unique challenges that arise from being a child of Thomas Mann. It’s within this microcosm of human experience that we see what it must have been like to be so at odds with and ashamed of the nation you were born into, while also mourning the loss of it, or at least, what it once was and promised to be. I haven’t read any other novels about Germany, or being German, from this perspective and I really appreciated the way in which Tóibín pulled at the threads and explored nationalism in such an intimate way. In a novel so intricate and in depth, with so much precise characterisation, I feel I got to know each of the characters extremely well. Katia, Thomas’s wife, was my favourite. I felt she was so enduring, so supportive of him, and so fiercely intelligent and intuitive. Thomas, I have mixed feelings about. There is no doubting his literary genius and I admired the way he contemplated the workings of the inner artist, but there were aspects of his character that didn’t sit well with me, chief among them his attraction to young boys (including his eldest son) and the way in which he would write about the people he knew, with no consideration for the way in which he portrayed them. Katia managed him quite well, she knew him perhaps even better than he knew himself and she was able to read his desires and act swiftly and with discretion when the need arose, but even so, the effect this had upon their children was more toxic than either of them anticipated. There was a consensus among the children that their mother was devoted to their father at their expense. There were many benefits to being a Mann, wealth and protection chief among them, but there were great burdens too, all of which were portrayed with care by Tóibín. The Magician is not a light novel, nor is it short, so don’t approach it with the view of a quick read. It’s a sweeping and involving novel that lends itself to contemplation about the world as it was in the first half of the twentieth century. It’s an unforgettable novel that has the whisper of a masterpiece about it. This one is solidly recommended to those who enjoy fictional biographies, historical fiction of the twentieth century, and novels about literary figures. ‘If music could evoke feelings that allowed for chaos as much as order or resolution, Thomas thought, and since this quartet left space for the romantic soul to swoon or bow its head in sorrow, then what would the music that led to the German catastrophe sound like? It would not be war music, or marching music. It would not need drums. It could be sweeter than that, more sly and silky. What happened in Germany would need a music not only sombre but slippery and ambiguous, with a parody of seriousness, alert to the idea that it was not only desire for territory or riches that gave rise to this mockery of culture that was Germany now. It was the very culture itself, he thought, the actual culture that had formed him and people like him, that contained the seeds of its own destruction. The culture had proved defenceless and useless against pressure. And the music, the romantic music, in all the heightened emotion it unleashed, had helped to nourish a raw mindlessness that had now become brutality.’ Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bob Hughes

    As someone who is a big fan of Colm Tóibín's writing, I have to say that I was very excited for this book, but also nervous, as I knew nothing about Thomas Mann. However, what Tóibín does here to introduce you to the writer, his character and his history was nothing short of masterful. Across the sweeping 500 pages of this beautiful novel, Tóibín delicately paints a picture of a changing world, and changing Germany, and how that manifests itself in Thomas Mann's writing. Early on in the book, it be As someone who is a big fan of Colm Tóibín's writing, I have to say that I was very excited for this book, but also nervous, as I knew nothing about Thomas Mann. However, what Tóibín does here to introduce you to the writer, his character and his history was nothing short of masterful. Across the sweeping 500 pages of this beautiful novel, Tóibín delicately paints a picture of a changing world, and changing Germany, and how that manifests itself in Thomas Mann's writing. Early on in the book, it becomes apparent that Tóibín deeply admires and respects Thomas Mann, but is still able to occupy a narrative space that is both inside Mann's head and watching him from the outside. As a result, we as the readers are both given an insight into the inner workings of a complex man, and also never made to feel like we are cold observers. This book is grand in scale- we watch two world wars sweep by, and watch how Germany, just like its symbol and hero, grows, divides and re-forms. The scenes where we observe Mann try to fight Nazism with speeches and books would feel trite in the hands of a lesser author. But Tóibín is somehow able to pull this off in a way that does not feel cliched- instead, Mann is presented as a sympathetic character, lost and powerless as he navigates all he has ever known crumbling in front of him as Hitler rises to power. The scenes where Mann looks back on his home country from a distance are incredibly moving, and the end passage of the book, as we watch some of the final moments of Mann's life, had me welling up, so profoundly involved with Mann's life we are after 500 pages. There is also something deeply special about Tóibín, a gay writer, writing about another gay writer. There is a deep understanding between the two men across history, and Tóibín's ability to capture queer yearning, shame and discovery is remarkable- these passages were stunning, and dealt with so deftly and generously. I did not expect to be as moved by this book as I was, but it will linger with me for a long while, and, as I suspect was Tóibín's secondary goal, I now want to read Thomas Mann's novels myself. I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Professor Weasel

    Whew, this is one heck of a book! It's incredibly ambitious, covering the majority of Thomas Mann's life (and also a hugely significant portion of German history). I loved it. I think this is a MUST read for any Thomas Mann fan. I think Hilary Mantel fans would also enjoy this. I really liked Colm Toibin's Henry James novel ("The Master"), and this feels like a really good companion to that. Some of the key themes in this: - Shame and secrecy. Like James in "The Master," Mann is basically in the cl Whew, this is one heck of a book! It's incredibly ambitious, covering the majority of Thomas Mann's life (and also a hugely significant portion of German history). I loved it. I think this is a MUST read for any Thomas Mann fan. I think Hilary Mantel fans would also enjoy this. I really liked Colm Toibin's Henry James novel ("The Master"), and this feels like a really good companion to that. Some of the key themes in this: - Shame and secrecy. Like James in "The Master," Mann is basically in the closet/not capable of confronting his desires and his sexuality. I thought the way the book connects this with his fiction (most obviously with "Death in Venice" and with "Faustus") was really well done - in the sense that it's not overdone, if you get me. The relationship with his wife (especially their early courtship) was really interesting (her family's Judaism is a key plot point, for obvious reasons). - Family. This is the #1 reason I would recommend this book. It is SO, SO interesting to learn about Thomas Mann's family. It is absolutely essential that you do NOT read Wikipedia and spoil yourself.DON'T DO IT. DON'T FREAKING READ IT. Trust me, you'll thank me. It was the biggest pleasure of the book for me. My jaw just kept dropping. What a family! What a life! Okay, I'll give you a few details: Thomas Mann's mother was Brazilian. Several of his children were famous homosexuals. And his brother, an aspiring writer, worked for a long time on a novel about Faustus. Believe me, it is... JUICY!! - The writer and politics. This is the #2 reason I would recommend this book. IT IS SO FREAKING INTERESTING to read about Thomas Mann working as a writer during World War I, being all patriotic and shit, getting shattered, and then dealing with freaking NAZISM. He doesn't take Hitler seriously at all initially, and sees him as a complete joker, an utter clown. He's proven wrong pretty quick, needless to say. While reading this I kept shaking my head and thinking of you-know-who (I'm not even gonna use his name; you should know who I'm talking about). It feels EERILY resonant and I am DYING to read an interview with Mr. Tóibín about his writing process for this book because I feel like there is NO WAY he was not thinking of current events from 2016-2020 while writing this. It is extremely powerful and made me think a lot about how history will look back on us, how history will hold us accountable, and how we will hold ourselves accountable. I'll leave it at that. Overall, it was the content of this book more than anything that really gripped me. I also liked the style - unadorned, plain, not fucking around, unpretentious, lots of scenes with dialogue. It suited me fine. I loved all the scenes that dealt with music. My one complaint is this book would have really benefitted from a killer Ishigruo ending, but it doesn't quite reach that height. I think any fan of historical fiction or of Thomas Mann himself would enjoy this book. Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for the ARC.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sonya

    This vibrant and personal novel about the life of Thomas Mann, a renowned writer with immense influence in the first half of the 20th century, is a deep plunge into the details of his unconventional family merged with the terrible history of the world wars and fall of Germany. Like all good historical fiction, there are enough details to tell stories, but the narrative is not bogged down. Mann's inner life, which would not be depicted in a biography, his quiet desires and his foibles, are front This vibrant and personal novel about the life of Thomas Mann, a renowned writer with immense influence in the first half of the 20th century, is a deep plunge into the details of his unconventional family merged with the terrible history of the world wars and fall of Germany. Like all good historical fiction, there are enough details to tell stories, but the narrative is not bogged down. Mann's inner life, which would not be depicted in a biography, his quiet desires and his foibles, are front and center. Toibin has mastered the material and given today's reader a look back in time. Thanks to NetGalley for an advanced review copy of this novel.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Pauline

    The Magician is a fictional biography of the German author Thomas Mann. An interesting read about the author and his life. Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin UK my e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael Burke

    An epic journey... "The Magician" by Colm Tóibín is a fictional portrayal of German author Thomas Mann covering a history from pre-war Germany in the 1890's through post-cold war America. It is a fascinating insight into Mann and his colorful family-- particularly when they were forced to witness the Nazi takeover and had to abandon their home. Politics would also follow them to America after the war as they were subjected to the wave of anti-Communism. In Germany Mann was initially reluctant to v An epic journey... "The Magician" by Colm Tóibín is a fictional portrayal of German author Thomas Mann covering a history from pre-war Germany in the 1890's through post-cold war America. It is a fascinating insight into Mann and his colorful family-- particularly when they were forced to witness the Nazi takeover and had to abandon their home. Politics would also follow them to America after the war as they were subjected to the wave of anti-Communism. In Germany Mann was initially reluctant to voice his opposition to Hitler or even get involved in the political mess developing there. Fearful for his reputation, he hid his homosexuality throughout his life, even as his children were unafraid to flaunt their very open lifestyles. The Thomas Mann we see is a lover of art and beauty, yet he channels most of his passion into his Pulitzer Prize winning writing, electing to project a detached personae on the outside. The problem is we do not delve into his actual work at all. The title "The Magician" refers to the nickname his children gave him for his ability to create magic in his literature-- a magic we are not exposed to from an otherwise guarded and distant man. This saga covers a considerable amount of time, an epic history of a spirited family and how they were sucked into the political and social tidal waves of the age. Be prepared for a challenging but rewarding read. 4 stars. I am grateful to Colm Tóibín, Scribner Books, and NetGalley for providing the Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review. #TheMagician #NetGalley "The Magician" is to be published on September 7, 2021 and this review will be posted on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookBub, Facebook and Twitter on that day.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    This is the story of Thomas Mann’s life. I have not read anything Mann wrote and, heading into this book, I had nothing more than a kind of Wikipedia summary level knowledge of his life. But he lived through a tumultuous period in history, especially German history, that included both World Wars. I have to confess that despite this book being about a world famous author living through a fascinating period of history, I did not find much in it that drew me in. I think this is largely because of th This is the story of Thomas Mann’s life. I have not read anything Mann wrote and, heading into this book, I had nothing more than a kind of Wikipedia summary level knowledge of his life. But he lived through a tumultuous period in history, especially German history, that included both World Wars. I have to confess that despite this book being about a world famous author living through a fascinating period of history, I did not find much in it that drew me in. I think this is largely because of the writing style and I appreciate that this is a personal thing. There are many people who love Colm Tóibín’s writing and those people will almost certainly love this book (the initial reviews on Goodreads are predominantly positive), but for me the writing is too monotone. What I mean is that whatever happens to Mann, however intense or dramatic his life or the surrounding events, the writing continues at the same unvarying level. My suspicion is that this is a very deliberate choice by the author who describes Mann’s writing at one point as "ponderous, ceremonious, civilized" and seems to want to imitate that tone in this book. I do acknowledge that I am speaking from a place of ignorance because I have not read Mann, but I am searching for a reason the narrative has the chosen style. It’s not 100% true to say the writing is monotone through the book. The period during the years of World War II was, for me, far more engaging and whenever Tóibín writes about music the writing seems to come to life. I enjoyed these sections of the book. There’s a passage in which Mann is listening to music in his house and musing on shadow versions of himself and that was by far my favourite passage in the whole book. My thanks to Penguin General UK for an ARC via NetGalley.

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