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The Magic Mountain

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In this dizzyingly rich novel of ideas, Mann uses a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, a community devoted exclusively to sickness, as a microcosm for Europe, which in the years before 1914 was already exhibiting the first symptoms of its own terminal irrationality.

The Magic Mountain is a monumental work of erudition and irony, sexual tension and intellectual ferment, a book that pulses with life in the midst of death.

706 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1924

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About the author

Thomas Mann

1,765 books4,082 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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Serbian: Tomas Man

Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and Nobel Prize laureate in 1929, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual. His analysis and critique of the European and German soul used modernized German and Biblical stories, as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. His older brother was the radical writer Heinrich Mann, and three of his six children, Erika Mann, Klaus Mann and Golo Mann, also became important German writers. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Mann fled to Switzerland. When World War II broke out in 1939, he emigrated to the United States, from where he returned to Switzerland in 1952. Thomas Mann is one of the best-known exponents of the so-called Exilliteratur.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,203 reviews
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,302 followers
October 2, 2013
I am in a good mood today!

Which should be readily apparent, because if I were not, this book would probably have received only two stars from me—not as a reflection of its literary quality per se, but rather as a reflection of my own reaction to it.

Here is what happened yesterday: I finished this book and tossed it forcefully onto the coffee table next to me in what may be seen as a transparent attempt to attract attention to myself (which is something I tend to do often) and sure enough someone picked it up, read its title, and asked me what it was about, providing me with a wonderful opportunity to roll my eyes dramatically (another move with which I am somewhat familiar) and ask, “Do you realllllly want to know?” I explained that it was about this aimless young gentleman who decides to kill some time before starting a new job by visiting his cousin in a tuberculosis sanatorium high up in the Swiss Alps, but who begins to exhibit symptoms of ill health himself and whose visit becomes lengthened by increasing bouts of time until his initial 3-week stay has been stretched out to a full seven years, and that this book was about his experiences in that sanatorium over the course of those seven years. By this point, my enquirer’s eyes were wide with interest and I was astounded. In explaining the premise of a book that has actually kind of bored me, have I inadvertently extolled its virtues? Is this book perhaps more interesting than I am giving it credit for? The short answer to that is, NO! This exchange with my enquirer has merely revealed what I think is the essence of The Magic Mountain—it is a place that appears interesting, a place a reader might wish to visit on account of that appearance, but once there it is a place that traps the reader for seven long years and berates him with its endless philosophical musings and its explorations of moral ideologies, and only upon being finally discharged does the reader discover his eyes are bleeding from all the fork stabbing.

Now I have gone ahead and made it all sound so horrible. The truth is, this book is very well written. It has a lot to say about the cyclical nature of time and humanity’s fruitless attempts to anchor itself against its continuous passing. It speaks of the mysteries of biology and brilliantly relates the starting point of life to an unexplained (and unstoppable) illness. It presents death as merely an extension of life as opposed to its diametric opposite and eerily makes the reader feel comfortable with it. And it exemplifies the importance of spiritual health to providing fulfillment for a life that is by most accounts cursory and meaningless. But at the end of the day, it is a book for the brain, and as much as that may be adequate for some, I need a book with a heart and soul. I need a book with characters I can relate to and empathize with, and unfortunately this book had none of that. So, to the extent that I “enjoyed” my visit to this sanatorium, it is not a place to which I would consider returning any time soon.
Profile Image for Kalliope.
691 reviews22 followers
November 30, 2015


It is dusk, and we are on a slim boat, similar to a black gondola and approach an isolated island. As I can make out better the shapes, I realize I have seen this before. The image in front of my eyes is like a black and white version of Arnold Bocklin’s painting and now I am transported to his Isle of the Dead. There is deep silence. I can only hear the very faint stirring of the water as the boat slides over it. Well no, there is also a faint melody which becomes clearer as we approach the shore. I now recognize Sergei Rachmaninov’s symphonic poem that grew directly out of the painting, with its Dies Irae. This poem is also in black and white in spite of all its harmonic colours.


As we arrive in the island, we see amongst the dark thin and tall trees a palace made out of ice. The air is chilly, not cold, not freezing, just crisp and sharp.

We enter this palace of iced crystal and there is a salon, a dancing salon and around it there are seven adjacent chambers or alcoves and there are hammocks and we see several figures lying down, horizontally. They are the “horizontals”, the blessed in their stability. Although we are moving in space, there is something flat, like a fresco in a medieval church or maybe this flattened perspective is my illusion.

We join the horizontals and lie down on the hammocks and wrap ourselves with white blankets and the spectacle begins.

The Polka of the Seven Steps.

The Polka begins and fourteen of those figures in the hammocks get up and form seven couples and get ready for their dance. The horizontals have become dancers and the spectacle at last begins.

First advance the Winter & Summer. They set the tempo. Now it is Summer, now it is Winter, and round again. This couple does the rounds so well and draws you in their swirling so absolutely that time passes without breaks and from its cyclicality there seems to be no escape. As they dance we see the sun streaming in with white light and it is warm, but when it touches the dark it freezes. It is magic Snow and it has revelatory powers.

Second in this diversion, step in Highland & Lowland. Highland is less haughty and more humble and its vision has an advantageous viewpoint. It sees that existence is enchanted. In comparison, Lowland seems perfect, the desired state. But when it gets closer we see that it is formed out of the common and the petty. In its prejudices it just assumes too much.

In clashing clothing the Western-Northern & the Eastern-Southern come now to the fore. Austerity in the garments and the frosty detachment of Western are apparent in the well measured steps, but the exotic frills and extravagance of the bright Eastern delights and allures everyone, especially its dancing companion. They perform the most frivolous steps. It is difficult to tell who follows whom and who sets the pace.

And now it is the turn of the Unhealthy & Healthy. The Unhealthy is denied activity and barely moves, but it is openly apparent that it lives the music more profoundly. It dances with its soul. It has clearly been blessed, anointed with TB, which confers additional sagacity. The Healthy seems flippant, and just watching it move around from my hammock makes me giddy. There is a disturbing senselessness about it.

Soon the next couple seems make their way and stand in front of us. Radicalism has pulled Humanism in. The latter dances elegantly, not missing one step and is dressed in light and harmonious tones. It also takes in stride the thrusts of Radicalism, who is dressed in dark shakes. There is a great deal of push and pull in this dance, but Humanism remains unperturbed.

Suddenly a great deal more light comes in and the next couple are announced: Apollo & Dionysus. With the light a magnificent figure takes center stage. He comes out alone, but is soon followed by his scruffy partner, Dyonisus, who in a most disorderly fashion trots in. If Apollo is impeccable Dyonisus is gaudy. In this movement of the polka Apollo’s steps are clear and straight, and we look in amazement how undisturbed they are by Dyonisus’ delirious swings.

The light dims suddenly as we reach the seventh and last dance and Eros & Thanatos make a dramatic entrance. They hold each other very tightly and intensely, as if their dancing were their salvation. Life as a temporary passage. Their steps are the most intricate and we see how their legs seem to slide out of their bodies and intertwine themselves into a new unity. But this is no polka, it is a tango. The erotic dance that could make you die.

The dancing music finishes and the first bars of Götterdämmerung are heard. In still circumspection we prepare to leave this island, a mountain emerging magically from its surrounding waters.

And as I try to remember whether I have seen these dancers before, I wonder if, after Thomas Mann's invitation, we now understand life and its purpose somewhat better, and if we have realized the overwhelming power of art and its dangers….
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
September 4, 2021
(Book 706 From 1001 Books) - Der Zauberberg = The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

The Magic Mountain is a novel by Thomas Mann, first published in November 1924. It is widely considered to be one of the most influential works of 20th century German literature.

The narrative opens in the decade before World War I. It introduces the protagonist, Hans Castorp, the only child of a Hamburg merchant family.

Following the early death of his parents, Castorp has been brought up by his grandfather and later, by a maternal uncle named James Tienappel.

Castorp is in his early 20's, about to take up a shipbuilding career in Hamburg, his home town. Before beginning work, he undertakes a journey to visit his tubercular cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, who is seeking a cure in a sanatorium in Davos, high up in the Swiss Alps.

In the opening chapter, Castorp leaves his familiar life and obligations, in what he later learns to call "the flatlands", to visit the rarefied mountain air and introspective small world of the sanatorium. ....

کوه جادو - توماس مان (نگاه) ادبیات؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز چهاردهم ماه می سال 2010میلادی

عنوان: کوه جادو؛ نویسنده: توماس مان؛ مترجم: حسن نکوروح؛ در دو جلد؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، نگاه، 1368؛ در 1016ص؛ چاپ بعدی 1388؛ شابک9789643514358؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان آلمان - سده 20م

با خوانش رمان «كوه جادو»، خوانشگر کمی هم به رمان «مرگ در ونيز» همین نویسنده، یادش بخیر باد میگوید؛ در هر دو رمان، مسافرانى هستند كه خود را رودرروی خویشتن خویش میبینند؛ چشم در چشم راستی دوخته، میخواهند با سده ی نوزدهم میلادی، خداحافظی كنند؛ رمان «کوه جادو»، شاهکاری ادبی، از دوران «وایمار (نام نظام حکومتی آلمان طی سالهای 1919میلادی تا 1933میلادی) است؛ جایزه ی نوبلی که «توماس مان» در سال 1929میلادی گرفتند، بیشتر مرهون رمان «خانواده ی بودنبروک» بود؛

در رمان «كوه جادو»، «هانس کاستورپ»، جوان بورژوا زاده‌ ای است، که برای گذران چند روزه، نزد پسرخاله ی خود «یوآخیم» می‌رود، که در آسایشگاه «شاتس آلپ»، در «داووس» تحت درمان است؛ همین که «کاستورپ»، در معرض فضای مرگ‌ آلودِ آسایشگاه، قرار می‌گیرد، احساس می‌کند یا می‌پندارد، که خود نیز بیمار است، و هفت سال در آنجا می‌ماند، تا زمانیکه، جنگ جهانی در سال 1914میلادی، او را از رؤیا بیرون می‌کشد، و با خشونت به میدان‌های نبردِ جنگِ جهانیِ نخست می‌برد

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 11/07/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 12/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,425 reviews3,395 followers
April 12, 2019
Some novels are like low hills… And some are like high mountains…
Love stands opposed to death – it alone, and not reason, is stronger than death. Only love, and not reason, yields kind thoughts.

The sanatorium is a powerful metaphor of civilisation – there is everything: love and hate, hope and despair, life and death, wisdom and stupidity, profanity and religion, science and ignorance, metaphysics and mysticism.
…our interest in death and illness is nothing but a way of expressing an interest in life…

And this civilisation is sick – it is consumptive. And it is a cauldron of human drama.
Profile Image for Megha.
79 reviews1,074 followers
December 19, 2012

Imagine hiking up a steep mountain. You are not quite winning the game of hide & seek with the Sun and it has got its fiery eyes firmly on you. Your legs are chewing your ears off with incessant grumbling. With each step you take, a wish to flop down right there grows stronger. One of these steps carries you to a spot where a spectacular vista suddenly opens up before you. For the briefest moment, the scene in front of you consumes not only your vision, but your consciousness. It is only in the next moment that it registers that the arduous climb is over and you know it was a worthwhile endeavor.

The Magic Mountain is one such hike. No other book has made such heavy demands on my patience (not even Tommy Ruggles' Gravity's Rainbow, I think). The Magic Mountain is incredibly dense and often slow going. But then there are places where the narrative sprouts wings and soars. Not to say that I didn't like the other bits of the book, but it was these few outstanding chapters that confirmed that effort vs. reward dynamic was in my favor.
It is certainly not a book with a high degree of obfuscation. Mann doesn't make it any more difficult than it needs to be. He narrates and explains everything with a lot of patience and wisdom.

The book description refers to The Magic Mountain as a dizzingly rich novel of ideas and that's exactly what it is. It is a highly erudite read all the way through comprising of many a intellectual discussions and debates. One of the frequently occurring themes in the book is the philosophy of time. The subjective nature of time is explicated in great detail. In fact, the book itself has an onomatopoeic quality, in that the narrative seems to move slow when time is not passing swiftly for Hans Castorp, and its picks up the pace when Hans feels that time is flying by.

Some of the other themes include life, death, illness, love, humanism, progress, modernism, irrationality of society, effect of war and then some. Did I say it was dense? Many of the characters are representational of one idea or another. The character of the protagonist, however, goes through a wonderful growth during the course of the novel. His character development, both spiritually and intellectually, is certainly one of the highlights. It may look like this book has a very serious disposition, but really there is plenty of humor and irony in the way Mann writes.

You may have seen some other reviewers mentioning the transcendent chapter Snow. I can't go without mentioning it as well. It is by far the best thing about the book. A beautiful, sublime piece of writing. Hans Castorp comes out transformed by the experience, and so does the reader. While other reviewers don't mention it, Danse Macabre was fascinating as well. For people living in a sanatorium, death takes on a very urgent position. Danse Macabre, literally meaning Dance of Death, looks into that very abyss.

Thomas Mann said that The Magic Mountain should be read twice. I have read through once, but I can't say I have twirled all the ideas around on my fingers and looked at them from all the sides. I do want to re-read it some day. For my next dose of ideas, I will perhaps be knocking at Musil's door.
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
972 reviews17.6k followers
June 5, 2023
A Sheer Towering Masterpiece of a novel, set securely and triumphantly atop the twin Corinthian Pillars of Desire and Control, and forged with the effort of an intensely fertile life of letters!

Why don’t I take these words from another novel in order to explain Thomas Mann to you?

“Is this guy Love or Death?” Jason growled.
“Ask your friends,” Cupid said. “Frank, Hazel and Percy met my counterpart, Thanatos. We are not so different. Except Death is sometimes kinder.”
Rick Riordan,The House of Hades.

Yes, our choice - Mann’s, Hans Castorp’s, and my own - of finding refuge from the fractious, knockabout world of Cupid, in the Thanatos of Sublimation was kinder. And it worked.

Using creative sublimation as a stand-in to the world’s Dance of the Seven Veils, we all succeeded in unveiling the Wretched Medusa who sweats out the grinding rotation of the World’s Gears - for her precious Love Machine.

Such a scenario happens when Atlas Shrugs (the job is always left to a woman, guys, but you all knew that)!

Though Medusa, thankfully for sleepers, rarely divulges her secrets (a girl’s prerogative), to us she did. And the outcome?

Mann became world famous. Castorp chose the sublimation of duty. And I wrote my picayune but cryptic reviews - never achieving much, myself, like Castorp - beyond being the recipient of GR Laurels: an E for Effort.

But - get this - we all saw Medusa naked!

And lived to tell the tale.

And thus we all avoided a premature spiritual death by seeking solace in the Shade of Thanatos…

And therein, also, our Salvation.
Profile Image for Warwick.
824 reviews14.5k followers
May 31, 2015

You’re faced with a daunting task when you try to talk about The Magic Mountain – there are so many threads that to pull on one seems unfair to the others. For some it’s a meditation on time, for others it’s the foundational ‘sick-lit’ masterpiece; it’s an allegory of pre-First World War Europe, say one group of supporters; not at all, argue others, it’s a parody of the Bildungsroman tradition.

And yet despite the profusion of themes and ideas, this is a supremely contained book. ‘Insular’ you might almost say, were the etymology not so inappropriate; perhaps ‘hermetically sealed’ is better (and indeed that becomes an important phrase in the text). The world of this novel is a closed one, or so at least it appears – sealed off from reality, with its own rules, its own time, its own space. The extent to which the characters here can interact with the ‘real’ world is something they have to discover themselves through the book’s seven-hundred-plus pages.

The plot can be disposed of in a single statement: that a young engineer called Hans Castorp takes a three-week visit to see his cousin in a Swiss sanatorium and ends up staying for seven years. This is not a novel of events, but a novel of ideas. (The main idea was apparently, I wonder if I can write seven hundred pages where literally nothing happens?)

At first the set-up seems to anticipate the whole imprisoned-in-a-medical-facility trope that has subsequently become familiar – as Hans gets sucked into the routine, and gradually diagnosed with problems of his own that prevent his leaving, I was picking up on a vague One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest vibe, and I also found myself thinking of the Alpine clinic scenes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or even the Timothy Cavendish bits of Cloud Atlas.

But the danger here is more subtle. The staff are friendly and accommodating (despite a sense that ‘above and behind [the Director] stood invisible forces’); you can leave for a trip into town, or even discharge yourself, whenever you wish. To paraphrase The Eagles, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never discount the possibility of a tubercular relapse forcing you to return with a collapsed lung. The patients claim they want to get out, but their attitude, in reality, is much more ambiguous. There’s a brilliant moment where Hans rails against the surroundings a little too much, and the director of the sanatorium calls his bluff with a quick examination:

When he was done, he said, ‘You may leave.’

Hans Castorp stammered, ‘You mean…but how can that be? Am I cured?’

‘Yes, you’re cured […]. As far as I’m concerned, you may leave.’

‘But, Director Behrens. You’re not really serious, are you?’

And suddenly we realise that Hans does not want to leave at all. He doesn’t want to go back to the responsibilities and expectations of his engineering job; here, in the sanatorium, he has freedom – freedom, and also a certain license in behaviour granted to the sick.

This is what lies behind the book’s treatment of time, and why the narrator can refer to the story as a Zeitroman, a ‘time-novel’. The inhabitants are in some sense degraded by being there, but they also cherish their privileged status, exempt from the world’s calendar. One character speaks of the sanatorium as an ‘isle of Circe’; it is a ‘life without time’, where the ‘true tense of all existence is the “inelastic present”’ (ausdehnungslose Gegenwart). In such an environment, there is a tendency for ideas, ideologies, dogma, to clash together unmediated – and also, conversely, for petty jealousies, flirtations and sexual desires to be unnaturally heightened.

Indeed this must be one of the most sexual novels ever written to involve so little actual sex. Everything is sublimated into various social conventions, so that Hans’s quasi-relationship with his mysterious fellow patient Clavdia Chauchat is initiated when he asks to borrow a pencil, and a climactic instance of sexual union is described, adorably, as a moment when ‘the use of informal pronouns achieved its full meaning’.

Psychoanalytic critics have had a field-day with the pencil-lending, not least because it reminds Hans of his homoerotic feelings for a childhood friend. But what makes the book truly Freudian in a less trivial sense is its close examination of the links between sex and death, eros and thanatos. One of my favourite chapters is the section called ‘Research’, where Hans stays up all night reading books about anatomy and biochemistry and feeling intimations of mortality mixed with a vague horniness. Life is imagined as ‘a secret, sensate stirring in the chaste chill of space’ – ‘matter blushing in reflex’ – while evolution is ‘the quintessence of sensuality and desire’, stirred into action ‘by reeking flesh’. Gazing out over the nighttime Alpine landscape, Hans sees only a cosmic, naked (female) human body:

The night of its pubic region built a mystic triangle with the steaming pungent darkness of the armpits, just as the red epithelial mouth did with the eyes, or the red buds of the breast with the vertically elongated navel.

(This whole virtuoso section reminded me of university, spending all night poring over textbooks while trying to manage teenage hormones.)

So much for the metaphysical games, the grand narrative theories. I’d expected something of the sort just from the novel’s reputation. What I had not expected – and it came as a very pleasant surprise – was to find that The Magic Mountain is a comic novel. In fact the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it’s this tone that lifts it, for me, into the first rank. Apart from anything else, it’s so important for the reader that they have some counterpoint to the grandiose theories so many of the characters want to expound upon, and Mann provides exactly that through the endearing character of Hans himself, our ‘thoroughly unpretentious’, ‘unheroic hero’. High-minded comments – and there are many – are rarely allowed to stand without an invitation for us to smile at them:

‘Did you know that the great Plotinus is recorded to have said that he was ashamed to have a body?’ Settembrini asked, and with such earnest expectation of an answer that Hans Castorp found himself forced to admit that this was the first he had heard of it.

Later, after a similarly earnest apophthegm from another character, we are allowed to eavesdrop on Hans's thought process: ‘Well, there’s a Delphic remark for you,’ he says to himself. ‘And if you purse your lips tight after delivering it, that will certainly intimidate everyone for a bit.’ In fact even when Hans is the one delivering the sententiousness, he can’t take himself very seriously:

‘There are so many different kinds of stupidity, and cleverness is one of the worst. Hello! Why, I think I’ve just coined a phrase, a bon mot. How do you like it?’

(‘Very much,’ comes the deadpan reply. ‘I cannot wait for your first collection of aphorisms.’) Without these ironic shifts in register, the book would still be fascinating but it would be monotone: with them, the effect is almost orchestral.

Such things are brought out especially well by John E Woods in his 1996 translation, an improvement on the old 1927 Lowe-Porter version in every way. Lowe-Porter, it has been said, succeeded in translating the novel into German, and having tried the first few pages of her translation I admit I found it almost unreadable. I had to order the Woods from the US, but it was worth it, despite the godawful cover and font design used by Vintage, and passing over also the Americanisms scattered through the text (catercorner being perhaps the most jarring; Woods also silently amends the patients’ temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit!).

Towards the end of the book, we finally suspect that Mann is pushing us beyond the ‘hyperarticulate’ arguments and towards real-world applications of these theories – to ‘leave logomachy behind’, as the narrator says at one point. The final couple of pages of this book move for the first time beyond Davos, to show us the Western Front – and we realise with a terrific jolt that it is 1914 and time has not stopped moving after all. Suddenly we appreciate the full importance of the novel’s investigation into how love and life can be made to emerge from death.

But now I am in danger of just rephrasing the book’s final lines in less felicitous language. Suffice to say that the whole mountainous project comes together in the climax, and it all ends, characteristically, in a question mark. Readers today may be better-placed than they wish to supply the answers.
Profile Image for Nicole.
448 reviews13.5k followers
January 17, 2022
Jestem niesamowicie dumna, że się nie poddałam. To była najtrudniejsza książka jakiej przeczytania się podjęłam. Kawał wybitnej literatury.
Profile Image for Fernando.
680 reviews1,094 followers
November 24, 2022
Thomas Mann es considerado uno de los más gloriosos escritores alemanes y uno de los mejores a los que uno puede acercarse en la literatura. Sus obras son ya clásicas y de un prestigio irreprochables. Ha escrito novelas realmente extensas (esta es una de ellas), pero también cuentos y ensayos.
Mi acercamiento a él fue leyendo primero su exquisita nouvelle "La muerte en Venecia" de corte netamente romántico y un cuento maravilloso llamado "Mario y el mago", pero quería realmente descubrir por qué esta novela, "La montaña mágica" ha tenido y sigue teniendo un brillo y una admiración tan apabullante en los lectores de todas las épocas desde su publicación en 1924.
Realmente no me defraudó y reafirmó mi admiración y respeto hacia Mann, ganador del Premio Nobel de Literatura en 1929, ya que yo también sucumbí a sus encantos literarios y a su poderosa narrativa. Seguramente continuaré con "Doktor Faustus" en breve.
"La montaña mágica" es una obra colosal, descomunal y el ascenso del lector posee el mismo tenor que el de esa montaña enclavada en la localidad de Davos, pero sin tornarse difícil o pesado, más allá de que por momentos la densidad y especialmente la extensión de los capítulos generan que el éste necesite tomarse todo el tiempo posible para recorrer sus páginas.
Es una de las novelas más largas que he leído. Consta de 1.050 páginas y tiene muchísima tela para cortar a partir de lo vasto de los temas tratados en ella. Es como un gran compendio de artes, humanidades, filosofía e historia por nombrar algunas temáticas pero se centra en dos cuestiones fundamentales: la enfermedad y la muerte.
En torno a estas dos cuestiones se desarrolla en su totalidad el argumento de la novela, porque tienen una implicancia directa en Hans Castorp, su protagonista y de todos los que comparten sus vidas en el famoso sanatorio de Berghof. Todos van allí a curarse de sus afecciones que redundan usualmente en problemas respiratorios, de tuberculosis, de pulmones a punto de estallar y otras enfermedades similares. La majestuosa montaña donde está enclavado propio sanatorio Berghof, con su clima y si entorno le aportan las condiciones a la salud de los pacientes: "Aquel aire era capaz de curar todas la enfermedades latentes en el cuerpo del hombre, aunque comenzaba por hacerlas brotar, provocaba una especia de revolución orgánica que desemboca en una eufórica explosión de la enfermedad, por así decirlo."
De alguna manera, el ambiente que los cobija para recuperarlos, les aporta complicaciones que logran hacer que el paciente tenga que quedarse allí por meses.
La acción transcurre desde 1907 hasta 1914. Increíblemente, Hans Castorp, que llega a ese sanatorio construido a casi dos mil metros de altitud para visitar a su primo Joachim Ziemssen para pasar tres agradables semanas, terminará viviendo siete años ya como un paciente más.
Junto con Joachim conoceremos a los más variados personajes, todos ellos extremadamente particulares y queribles. Rápidamente el lector se encariñar�� con algunos, como el inefable humanista italiano Lodovico Settembrini, que tendrá una preponderante influencia en Hans, a punto tal que se transformará en un padre para él. Con una apasionada defensa de los valores, el humanismo, la tolerancia y la democracia será un guía y un referente en Hans Castorp.
También irán apareciendo otros no menos interesantes como la risueña señorita Herminie Kleefeld, madame Karoline Stöhr con su "ignorancia intelectual" a cuestas, el ruso Antón Karlovich Ferge, la señorita Engelhart, el señor jocoso señor Albin, la enfermera en jefe Adriática von Mylendonk, el trastornado Ferdinand Wehsal y la institutriz Robinson también. En fin, la lista de personajes es tan larga como la novela.
Existen tres personajes más que también son clave en todo este asunto. En primer lugar, Clavdia Chauchat quien poco a poco irá transformándose en el objetivo amoroso de Hans que en un principio es platónico hasta que se vuelve real y tangible. Junto con Clavdia nos encontraremos con otro personaje fundamental llamado Mynheer Peeperkorn y quien Mann le concede tres capítulos completos, dado que de un modo distinto a Settembrini logrará hacer efecto en Hans Castorp porque además, quedan incluidos en un triángulo amoroso más que complejo.
Otro de ellos es Leo Naptha, un intelectual judío, que procede de una orden jesuita, especializado en la Edad Media que será la antítesis del señor Settembrini. Entre estos dos se generará una pugna eterna, que incluye larguísimas discusiones y entreveros de alto vuelo intelectual y filosófico que desnudan sus posiciones completamente antagónicas hasta estallar de la peor forma al final de la novela.
Todas estas batallas intelectuales demostrarán el poderío filosófico de Thomas Mann. Maneja ambos planteamientos de ideales con una precisión y una brillantez impecable, porque logra penetrar en la psiquis de cada personaje y los controla por completo, tal vez no al nivel de un Dostoievski, pero sí con un aplomo incuestionable. Son muchos los temas que este autor plantea en el libro y en todos ellos lo hace sin fisuras. Realmente destacable.
Volviendo a la cuestión de la enfermedad y la muerte, el cual es harto desarrollado en el libro, creo que para que ellos tengan efecto fue necesario incluir algo que tal vez algunos lectores pasa por alto: leyendo las distintas situaciones noto que la gran mayoría de los enfermos del sanatorio son presa de una hipocondría galopante y lo que es peor, eso es sustentado y alimentado por los mismos doctores, Behrens que es el médico principal y su ayudante, el doctor Krokovski. Entre los dos, de alguna manera se dan maña para mantener a los pacientes por más tiempo del que tienen estipulado.
Tal vez yo veo algo que otros no, pero me ha dado una fuerte impresión esto de cómo manejan la enfermedad de sus pacientes, así también como el tratamiento del asunto de la muerte y cómo afrontarla. He tomado nota de muchas frases y reflexiones acerca de la muerte y a muchos lo incluí en los avances de lectura, dado que Mann aborda a la muerte desde todos los puntos de vista posibles.
En un determinado punto llegamos a algunos factores que los pacientes que se autodenominan "Los de arriba" sostienen contra el mundo de "los que viven abajo". En primer lugar el tratamiento que se le da al tiempo. Mann se toma gran parte de un capítulo para explicar con qué diferencia transcurre el tiempo en el sanatorio en contraposición con el tiempo supuestamente "normal" de los habitantes Davos, incluso afirmando que todo sucede de una manera distinta. A punto tal que uno lo termina creyendo.
En segundo lugar la cuestión de la enfermedad. Se llega a un momento en que ninguno de los pacientes puede afirmar que se podrá ir del sanatorio, puesto que su enfermedad es tomada como un modo de vida. El mundo "de abajo" goza de buena salud pero ellos, nunca la podrán recobrar.
A todo esto se suma la influencia de los doctores Behrens y Krokovski a quienes Settembrini apoda como Minos y Radamante, que son los jueces de los muertos en el Reino de las Sombras. Simbolismos como estos aparecerán continuamente en distintos capítulos de la novela.
Una novela tan extensa da posibilidades a incluir todo tipo de situaciones completamente disímiles y esta no es la excepción. Desde la carnavalización bajtiniana que nos regala en una auténtica fiesta de disfraces que se realiza en el salón principal del sanatorio hasta el capítulo denominado "Noche de Walpurgis", al mejor estilo del Fausto de Goethe en donde Hans será llevado a conocer el costado más excéntrico de sus compañeros del sanatorio.
Por otro lado y como comentara previamente, el alto vuelo poético de Settembrini es algo que engalana y enriquece a la historia. Es un placer leer algunas de las cosas que dice porque nos hace pensar, reflexionar y soñar. Algo parecido sucede con Mynheer Peeperkorn, aunque su sabiduría posee otros componentes distintos a los de Settembrini y aún así terminan haciendo tremenda mella en Hans, hasta llegar a eclipsar a Settembrini.
Creo que hay varios momentos clave en esta novela. Para mí son la llegada de Hans Castorp al sanatorio, luego el descubrimiento de su enfermedad, sus peripecias con Madame Chauchat, la aparición de Leo Naptha que cambiará la percepción de Hans sobre la vida, la ida de Joachim para cumplir su sueño de enrolarse en el ejército, la introducción de la novela de Mynheer Peeperkorn y el final, que involucra a varios personajes como Joachim, Settembrini, Naptha, Peeperkorn y obviamente, al mismo Hans.
"La montaña mágica" es el fiel retrato de una época casi mágica también: la de principios del siglo XX cuando el mundo, distraído y absorto en sus propios placeres recibiría una feroz bofetada a partir del asesinato del archiduque de Prusia, Franz Ferdinand que desencadenaría la Primera Guerra Mundial.
Ya nada iba a ser lo mismo para Hans y para el mundo. Lo bello, lo mágico, lo fascinante desaparecerá completamente y otra será la realidad de Europa.
Para lograr este efecto final, Mann primeramente nos sumerge en este sanatorio tan particular, poblado de personajes tan maravillosos e inolvidables logrando que el lector escale esta montaña sin dificultad alguna y créanme que no es nada fácil lograr que en una novela tan extensa el interés decaiga.
Solo los grandes maestros como Thomas Mann pueden cumplir estas expectativas de una manera tan excepcional.
Por último, debo reconocer que en cierta forma, me sorprendió gratamente el final dado que corta casi de un plumazo toda una realidad de siete años de forma abrupta para arrojarnos a un ambiente mucho peor y trágico y además, he intentado tratar de recordar si existe otra novela de la manera que termina esta: Mann termina el párrafo final del libro con una pregunta.
De la misma manera culmino yo mi reseña: ¿tú lector me ayudas a recordar otro libro que haya terminado así?
Profile Image for Luís.
1,864 reviews524 followers
January 4, 2023
The context is that of a society where work was how one asserted oneself; one truly existed. Only respect for hard work, which had almost a divine nature, made a man worthy of interest.
This initiatory tale highlights an orphan's pure, modest, and naive nature while preparing for studies. His hazardous passage through a sanatorium represents a discovery of human nature.
The biting, learned, disturbed, and depressed residents teach him much about illness, death, and the human condition. Distress is also a constant in a sick person's life; vague hopes and a dignified attitude in the face of suffering will instill respect for grief in the young man.
He will be engaged in discussions on the principles of philosophy and social theories and the conscious activity of the human being. The grand ideas of humanism discussed there, mainly the hostility of the body against the spirit. Young residents will find advice on making choices and staying away from vices.
A sanatorium's monotonous and precisely regulated life will instill patience in him. But, on the other hand, the first emotions of love will awaken feelings of jealousy.
This seclusion might seem disturbing to a young person because of the specter of illness and death lurking around it, yet he will develop sympathy of mind and heart towards others in this cramped space.
Thomas Mann delivers a faithful portrait of the state of mind and Europe's spiritual problem in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Admittedly, it has been written in a reasonably classic style. Still, the author's intelligence does not exclude sensitivity and enlightens us on the genesis of relations with precision, mixing a sense of detail with the essential.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,303 followers
November 18, 2022
Ca să folosesc chiar termenii medievali în care Thomas Mann și-a comentat romanul, aș rezuma acțiunea din carte astfel: un tînăr „cavaler” - plecat în căutarea Graalului - uită vreme de 7 ani scopul misiunii sale. Ar putea pleca oricînd din „captivitate”, dar nu are curaj. Și nici dispoziție. Va părăsi locul tîrziu, în plin război.

Criticii literari consideră Muntele vrăjit un „Bildungsroman”.

Hans Castorp este suspectat de tuberculoză. Nu va primi niciodată un diagnostic ferm. Va petrece o lungă perioadă de timp într-un sanatoriu din Alpii elvețieni. Meditează (uneori, împreună cu Lodovico Settembrini și Leo Naphta, doi indivizi puși întruna pe harță) la timp, sănătate, boală, plictis, teamă, moarte etc. De neuitat rămîne minunata Clawdia Chauchat, muza timidului cavaler.

Uimirea lui Hans Castorp la vederea exoticei, ispititoarei femei: „Niciodată încă nu văzuse chipul doamnei Chauchat atît de aproape și atît de limpede... [Pomeții] presau puternic ochii așezați excepțional de departe unul de celălalt... Dar erau mai întîi ochii înșiși, acești ochi înguști de kirghiză și de o formă în adevăr fermecătoare, de un cenușiu-albastru sau de un albastru-cenușiu, culoarea munților îndepărtați și care, cîteodată, printr-o privire piezișă ce nu urmărea să vadă ceva, se topeau într-o colorație nocturnă, tenebroasă și împăienjenită - ochii Clawdiei...” (p.174).

Alți ochi în care să ne pierdem și să ne înecăm:
- Ochii Emmei Bovary: albaștri, negri, întunecați, căprui.
- Ochii Annei Karenina: cenușii...
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,384 followers
November 7, 2021
Wimps in the Mist

Time is not a constant, said Einstein in 1916, and his fellow German Thomas Mann was like whoa. Eight years later he finished Magic Mountain, which proves that time is relative by making the experience of reading it last fucking forever.

Here is the "plot": Young Hans Castorp has found that he doesn't enjoy having a job, or anything else about life, so when he ambles up a mountain to visit his consumptive cousin Joachim who does nothing but sit around wrapped in a blanket all day, he decides to stay. "This is the life!" he says. "I'm sick too! Wrap me up!"

Castorp is a nincompoop - that's the narrator's word, or I suppose the translator's - and the high points of his action in this 700-page book consist of borrowing a pencil and getting lost. He exists to listen to the debate Mann is really interested in: between humanism, represented by Settembrini, and fascism, represented by Naphta. The debate may seem academic but it has dire repercussions for your life, because reading it will make you so bored.

These two bloviating asshats stand for the two sides in World War I, and the nicest thing you can say about this book is that it didn't go over super well with Nazis. They treated Mann with kid gloves for a while - he won the Nobel Prize in 1929, after all - but he would eventually have his German citizenship revoked (oh nooooo) and he'd spent the rest of his life in Switzerland and America.

He was an interesting dude: bisexual and atheist, both of which are themes explored in this novel, not in an interesting way. Castorp's love interest Clavdia Chauchat - literally "hot pussy" - is, Orlandoish, the resexed reincarnation of Castorp's youthful male love interest Pribislav. Both of them will loan Castorp what may be the same pencil, which is as interesting as a pencil can be, which is not at all.

As for God, Settembrini represents science and Naptha, the bad guy, represents religion: "It seems to me you have to be clear about these two intellectual directions, or dispositions...the religious and the free-thinking," Castorp says. But Mann doesn't want you to actually take sides.
They carried everything to extremes, these two...and squabbled fiercely over the most extreme choices, whereas it seemed to him that what one might, in a spirit of conciliation, declare truly human or humane had to lie somewhere in the middle of this intolerant contentiousness, somewhere between rhetorical humanism and illiterate barbarism.

His point is that any philosophy taken to extreme is false; he advocates compromise and restraint.

Anyway, the point is that Thomas Mann was interesting but his book isn't. It's so fucking boring. There are no characters and there is no plot. There are talking heads with names, but they exist only to blather at each other. Almost nothing happens. Time stretches endlessly around you as you slog through page upon page of talking and talking. You look up and an hour has passed, but you're only four pages further on. What happened to all those minutes? Will you ever get them back? Will you emerge from reading this book like Rip Van Winkle, your child grown, your spouse dead? "There is nothing 'actual' about time," says Hans Castorp. "If it seems long to you, then it is long, and if it seems to pass quickly, then it's short. But how long or short it is in actuality, no one knows." All I know is that it was very, very long while I read this book.

tl;dr too long; don't read
Profile Image for Guille.
757 reviews1,554 followers
February 20, 2020
“¡Qué audacia descender a las profundidades, el mundo insignificante y absurdo de los muertos!”
Pues sí, señoras y señores, la muerte es el final de la película que protagonizamos todos y cada uno de nosotros, perdonen el spoiler. Y aunque afortunadamente vivimos buena parte de nuestra vida de espaldas a ese desenlace seguro, la muerte nos constituye y nos condiciona como especie y como individuos. Nada más lejos de la verdad esta sentencia de Epicuro que el autor incluye en su novela.
“Mientras existimos nosotros, no existe la muerte, y, cuando existe la muerte, no existimos nosotros; por consiguiente, no hay ninguna relación real entre la muerte y nosotros; la muerte es algo que no nos atañe absolutamente en nada.”
“La montaña mágica” nos acerca a la muerte, y no solo por lo que se tarda en su lectura. La muerte está presente a lo largo de toda la novela, aunque su función no sea otra que prepararnos para la vida. Mann nos viene a decir que la auténtica salud solo puede conseguirse tras el enfrentamiento con lo que supone la enfermedad y la muerte. Pero también habita en esta montaña una “magia del desvarío” catalizadora del cambio de naturaleza que se produce en las personas que allí suben y que corren el peligro de conformar una nueva patria que les expulsará de la otra, la sana físicamente, la cruel y vana.
“Hay un estado de buena salud que no nos permite comprenderlo todo” André Guidé.
Como si de un cuento se tratara, esos que se cuentan a los niños para ayudarles con sus miedos, Mann nos presenta a Castorp, huérfano de padre y madre, a los que apenas conoció, que, tras sondear “abismos que en otros tiempos se encontraban insondables”, a través de un “camino pedregoso, salvaje y amenazador” llega a un mundo parecido al conocido pero sustancialmente distinto, el sanatorio en el que su primo se recupera de una enfermedad que puede ser mortal. La visita de tres semanas acabará por durar siete años.

Castorp nos irá acompañando por las estancias del sanatorio donde iremos observando los efectos que la enfermedad y la cercanía de la muerte tiene sobre las voluntades, los caracteres y los valores de sus moradores, como es causante de la desaparición de pudores, como modifica los modos de relacionarse, de estar en el mundo y hasta la forma de amar.
"A veces pienso que estar enfermo y morir no son algo tan serio, sino una especie de paseo sin rumbo; en realidad, las cosas serias no se encuentran más que en la vida de allá abajo.”
Sabremos de la humillación que supone la enfermedad, de la crueldad de la naturaleza en consentirla, de la soberanía sobre nosotros que el cuerpo adquiere y, por último, lo más importante quizás de la novela, de la enfermedad como anestesia, como obstáculo para la actividad y la lucha, la enfermedad como aristocracia, como equivocada fuente de dignidad. Los enfermos establecerán en la montaña una comunidad de elegidos viviendo en un espacio sin tiempo y a salvo de las otras fiebres que sufren los del mundo de allí abajo.
“Aquellos cuyo destino justificaba la excepcional necesidad de consuelo, aquellos que habían hecho un pacto interior con la naturaleza en el que renunciaban a las alegrías y desgracias de la vida en el mundo de allá abajo a cambio de otra vida, marcada por la apatía y la inercia pero muy, muy fácil y placentera, tan libre de preocupaciones que hasta anulaba el sentido del tiempo.
Todo lo dicho hasta ahora justifica el que haya mantenido tres de las cuatro estrellas que los míticos recuerdos de mi primera lectura, allá por el pleistoceno, me animaron a otorgarle en el momento en el que inicié mi andadura por estos mundos goodreadsianos. Aunque también he de decir que una de las tres estrellas que permanece en mi calificación casi se debe en exclusiva al capítulo titulado Nieve, espléndido.

¿Dónde se quedó la cuarta estrella? Lo confieso, hay partes, no pequeñas ni escasas, que he leído en diagonal, no porque las tuviera frescas en mi memoria, apenas recordaba nada de mi anterior lectura, sino por el nulo interés que en mí despertaban. La novela ha envejecido regular para mí en muchos aspectos, empezando por las innumerables consideraciones sobre el concepto tiempo que se hacen a lo largo de toda la novela y que a estas alturas de la película me han parecido triviales y sin la relevancia necesaria como para protagonizar tal número de páginas. No descarto que Mann pretendiera hacernos sentir esa extraña percepción elástica del tiempo alternando partes absorbentes con otras realmente tediosas.

Tampoco me ha interesado, como seguramente lo hizo en mi adolescencia, el conflicto cuerpo-espíritu que ha presidido muchas de las incontables disquisiciones entre el humanista Settembrini y el reaccionario Naphta. Ideas igual de superadas, al menos en lo que a mí se refiere, que las disquisiciones entre razón y fe o ciencia y Dios en las que tanta tinta gastó Mann. Por no hablar de la inocente fe en el progreso que tan entusiásticamente nos explica Settembrini, de la supuesta íntima relación entre las enfermedades del alma y las físicas o todas esas fantasmagorías de las últimas páginas o la concepción del buen salvaje rousseauniano, o el Adan previo al pecado original, que ambos intelectuales comparten y que a mí tanto me repele.
“N: No creo equivocarme al suponer que estamos de acuerdo en admitir un estado original e ideal de la humanidad, un estado sin organización social y sin violencia, un estado de unión directa de la criatura con Dios en el que no existían el poder ni la servidumbre, no existían la ley ni el castigo, ni la injusticia, ni la unión carnal, ni la diferencia de clases, ni el trabajo ni la propiedad; tan sólo la igualdad, la fraternidad y la perfección moral.

S: Estoy de acuerdo excepto en el punto de la unión carnal.”
En fin, otro encuentro algo decepcionante con aquel lector que fui.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
779 reviews
June 13, 2016
Reviewed in December, 2013

I love when the themes of two books I happen to be reading overlap. And when those themes also reflect aspects of my own life experience, I feel a wonderful convergence, an exchange of awareness at an almost physical level as if the the space between the pages where the authors ideas are laid out and my reading of their pages has become porous and a continual flow happens between all three, an exchange not unlike the one that happens in the deepest tissues of the respiratory system when we breathe in and out.

In perhaps the most obvious parallel between the two books I've been reading and my own life, the hero of The Magic Mountain and the Narrator of Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, both suffer from respiration related diseases. Proust’s Narrator, an asthmatic like myself, spends portions of his life à l’horizontale, wrapped in the tissued softness of a curtained room, lest any noxious air disturb the normal rhythm of his breathing. Quite early in his stay at the Berghof sanitorium, Hans Castorp discovers that he may have a soft spot on his lung and this discovery removes him from the normal rhythms of life to live his own horizontal version of ‘lost time’ in the hermetic world of The Magic Mountain.

The exchanges that take place between the two books might also be compared to those produced by the vibrating membrane of the acoustic chamber of a gramophone - since music plays such a big part in both works even as it does in my own life.
Certain pieces of music become significant in both books, and are used by their authors as a kind of recurring theme. Schubert’s Am Brunnen vor dem Tore, a song about the symbolic linden tree, emerges as a connector between Hans Castorp’s feelings and ideas, and as a significant object in the working out of his life and fate.
Mann also uses other pieces of music as metaphors for his hero’s existence: just as Radomes in the opera Aida sings Tu - in questa tomba when Aida comes to him in his underground prison, Castorp is ‘buried’ in the tomb of the Berghof sanatorium, waiting to be joined by his love. But like Don José in Bizet’s Carmen, Castorp’s Russian ‘Carmen’ is drawn away from him towards a more ‘robust’ toreador. However, Castorp, although ein Sorgenkind des Lebens, one of life’s problem children, is never at a complete loss and, without any operatic drama, he subtly vanquishes the toreador.

Music is therefore a powerful trigger for change in Castorp’s life but, as is the case in Proust, it is only one of a series of cathartic mechanisms: a simple nosebleed propels Castorp back in time to a significant moment in his childhood; the experience of being lost in a snow storm on the mountain awakens new levels of consciousness within him; dreams play a role too, as do images, in particular the x-ray image of his own body which provides a eureka moment in terms of his self discovery, his ‘Bildung’.

Hans follows many avenues of study in his quest to understand himself, one of them being the lectures given every week in the sanatorium by Dr Krokowski on the subject of love as a force conducive to illness. Among the arcane topics covered by the doctor is The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights. This work was a favourite of Proust, and love as a force conducive to illness is itself an underlying theme in À la Recherche du Temps Perdu.
Dr Krokowkski also talks about plants in connection with love, in particular the morel mushroom. Proust chooses the name Morel for one of his characters, a character himself associated with the destructive power of love.
The study of plants becomes a preoccupation for Hans in his personal program for self cultivation. He is particularly interested in the family of flowers called ranunculacae, a compound flower, as I recall, an especially charming plant, bisexual... This is yet another similarity with Proust’s work since the metaphor of bisexual and self-fertilising plants is an important element in the Recherche.

There are other parallels too, 'love' meaning ‘being loved’, references to duels, the personification of death, death wearing a starched Spanish ruff..whereas life always wore a little, normal, modern collar.
Proust and Mann place themselves in the text from time to time, acknowledging the reader reading, At the beginning of May (for May arrived while we were talking about snowdrops) ..., the ‘we’ being the author and the reader.
They both have very sharp observational skills as if they had taken a quick snapshot of a glance, a way of sitting or standing, a way of walking, and they can stretch description almost to the point of caricature as in the case of Dr Behrens or Mme Verdurin. The authors also make frequent diversions within their narratives but seem to finish up exactly where they planned in the end, with a discussion of ‘Time’.

Thomas Mann has some very interesting things to say about the element of ‘time’ in narration, the very cornerstone of Proust’s work.
Narrative, however, has two kinds of time: first, its own real time, which like musical time defines its movement and presentation; and second, the time of its contents, which has a perspective quality that can vary widely, from a story in which the narrative’s imaginary time is almost, or indeed totally coincident with its musical time, to one in which it stretches out over light-years.
He can stretch a moment out of all proportion to real time: Their eyes met.. Claudia's napkin slips towards the floor - Hans Castorp half rises as if to pick it up it - but she retrieves it, scowls in annoyance at her own silly panic and turns away with a smile. That brief incident takes half a page to tell but at other times, Mann can condense years into a single sentence: There is not that much time left in any case, it's rushing by slapdash as it is, or if that's too noisy a way of putting it, it's whisking past hurry-scurry.
Because the weather on the Magic Mountain is unpredictible with snow in summer and sunshine in winter, robbing the year of its seasons, Hans Castorp marks the passage of time not by calendars or watches but simply by his visits to the barber or the frequency with which he clips his nails - and since death is a major theme, as it is also in Proust, Mann reminds the reader more than once that, In the end it is only the physical that remains, the nails and the hair.
Hans Castorp lives outside of time while on the Magic Mountain just as Proust’s Narrator moves outside of time, en dehors du temps in his search for le Temps Perdu.
Profile Image for Lance Greenfield.
Author 121 books234 followers
March 3, 2015
At the risk of being labelled a Philistine, I declare that this book is one of the most insufferably boring tomes that has ever made it onto my bedside table. I admit that I only struggled my way through the first 170 pages, but that was enough to convince me that I should not waste any more minutes of my precious life wading through any more of this drivel.

I know, I have also been chastised for criticising modern art in the same way. Tracey Emin's "Unmade Bed" and Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain" will just have to live in the pile of junk that I fail to understand.

I realise that I am in the minority, as most reviewers and professors of literature believe this to be a masterpiece, and probably the best book to come out of Germany in the twentieth century. Then again, Hans Christian Anderson's boy who recognised the nakedness of his Emperor as those around him admired the splendour and wonderful colours of their leader's new clothes, was also in the minority.

Perhaps, then, I shouldn't feel too bad about my opinion of this amazing piece of creative writing. It may also explain why English literature was the only `O' Level that I failed, despite having been a prolific reader all of my life. It just happened that the books that were chosen for my studies for those exams also bored me to tears.

Following some comments on this review, I have added these notes (27/9/09).

I have always been a prolific reader, sometimes having up to five books on the go simultaneously. I read most novels at the rate of 80-100 pages per day. With The Magic Mountain, I found that I had been reading a few pages at a time for well over a month, and had only waded through 170. There is so much description attached to the narrative that all that had happened by this stage was that the main character had arrived at the sanatorium, met his old friend and most of the patients. It had also come to light that he really wasn't there for his own medical benefit. He isn't really ill. Rather that he was there for a bit of a rest, and escape from the drudge of life in Hamburg with his guardian, and to be with his best mate. If the descriptions were interesting, and succeeded in conjuring up a wonderful picture in my mind, I wouldn't feel quite so bad about it.

Encouraged by some of the other reviews, I revisited the book, and read the passage describing Hans's adventure in the snow, as that was said to be the best part of the book. I remained unimpressed.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed this book more if my German language were up to the standard required to read the original, but I doubt it. I am not alone in my disillusionment. Several of my friends and family, some of them professors and schoolteachers, share my views, and I have yet to meet anyone who has survived to reach the end. It is obvious that there are many who have read, re-read, and thoroughly enjoyed The Magic Mountain. I am happy for them and I rejoice that the world is full of variety, particularly of taste. Wouldn't life be dull without that?!
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,546 followers
March 22, 2018
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "An ordinary young man was on his way from his hometown Hamburg to Davos-Platz in the canton of Graubünden. It was the height of summer, and he planned to stay for three weeks."

Here we are introduced to Hans Castorp (one of my all-time favorite bumbling protagonists) with a load of telling adjectives. Mann insists that he is a young man (although he will act like an old man in many ways) and ordinary (and we will see that this was probably a fatal flaw in being too ordinary). I intentionally left the second phrase about the fact that it was summer time and yet he was heading to a place (Davos) that folks usually frequent in the wintertime. This adds a bit of mystery which is cleared up in the following chapter. The detail that Davoid was in a particular canton is typical of Mann's style of including sometimes useless details just to ensure that the photo he is painting is as realistic as possible. This book in general is one of the funniest that I have ever read (with Natsume Soseki's I am a Cat (吾輩は猫である)) and, if you haven't had the pleasure yet, you will not regret either. I need to reread this!
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
861 reviews2,188 followers
August 25, 2013
Socratic Dialogues

"The Magic Mountain" is a sequel to “Death in Venice”.

Just as Plato’s Socratic Dialogues were the foundation of the novella, they guide the narrative of "TMM", a "Bildungsroman" that is concerned with the education of the protagonist, Hans Castorp, during the seven year period from ages 23 to 30.

Castorp doesn’t so much learn or grow by his physical actions. The character development is intellectual, a development which is equally apparent in both the author and the reader.

Because it's structured as a Socratic Dialogue, there is no guarantee that all readers will take the same message from the novel. Mann presents us with two, if not multiple, pedagogical or metaphysical points of view. While we might be able to infer Mann’s preference, it's not always clear, and it's left to us to draw our own conclusions.

This reinforces the reputation of the novel as one of the great works of literature, not only because its subject matter is the rival ideas upon which civilization is founded, but because it lets us be the judge.

As with Socrates, the goal is to make us think methodically about the issues, rather than to encourage us to approach them with inflexible preconceptions or to depart captive to rigid dogma.

In Which the Hero is Heightened and Enhanced

"TMM" is set in a sanatorium on a Swiss mountain, where patients suffering from tuberculosis go to receive treatment and a cure.

To do so, they must leave the flatlands of Germany and elsewhere and reside "up here" in a rarefied, pure, idealized atmosphere and world. They undergo a "change of air" and learn to breathe afresh.

They are pulled out of day-to-day timetables, responsibilities, cares and conflicts. On the mountain, they can see things for what they really are.

Not that it is all heavenly and harmonious: there is no less rivalry and conflict or, for that matter, gossip up here.

At times the novel betrays an almost comic fantasy tone associated with fables, morality plays (Goethe described his "Faust" as a "very serious jest") and fairy tales (not to mention "The Master and Margarita").

Olympian Rivalries

The title of the novel derives from Nietzsche’s "The Birth of Tragedy":

"Now it is as if the Olympian magic mountain had opened before us and revealed its roots to us. The Greek knew and felt the terror and horror of existence. That he might endure this terror at all, he had to interpose between himself and life the radiant dream-birth of the Olympians."

For Nietzsche, the Olympian gods helped mankind battle "that overwhelming dismay in the face of the titanic powers of nature."

Because the gods lived the lives of mortals, their example gave the Greeks strength, resolve and moral guidance.

However, unlike Christianity, there were multiple gods, and thus scope for differences of perspective or emphasis, in particular, the difference that most interested Nietzsche, the difference between the Apollonian and the Dionysian (a preoccupation of Mann in both "Death in Venice" and "TMM").


Dialectics, Dialogues and Diabolics

In both Nietzsche and Mann, there is a polarity, a dialectic, a double-sidedness.

The dialectic is ideological. However, Mann presents it to us in the form of a dialogue or duel between two characters. It is personalized, as it is with Dostoyevsky.

While the dialogue is often essayistic in total length, it is not just fodder for a dry "novel of ideas", it is a dramatic embodiment and reflection of a personal and philosophical tension between two vital people. It comes to us in short, sharp, punchy grabs. It’s like going 15 rounds with two intellectually-gifted prize fighters.

If you’re not interested in the rivalry of ideas, this novel might not be for you. If you are, it could be a wonderful reading and thinking experience.

Still, Mann’s refusal to always resolve the tensions between the ideas might not be to your liking.

Some see it as disingenuous, witness this assessment by one of my favourite critics, Alfred Kazin, who once met Mann in Hollywood:

"Mann, the creative peer and contemporary of great experimental novelists like Proust and Joyce, is easier to read but actually harder to grasp through the external conventionality of his form and the heavy load of Germanic philosophic apparatus.

"He is so continuously double-sided, so ‘safe’ in manner and so subversive within, so much the pompous German pedant in his literary manner and in his substance so representative of his aesthetic, nihilist, decadent generation, that it is almost impossible to do justice to the range and elusiveness of his mind.

"Either one makes too much of only one side of him or one imitates his own tiresome Olympian irony, the suavely self-protective use to which he put his doubleness by effectively concealing his real opinions."

Kazin damns Mann with faint praise. In contrast, the Marxist Hungarian critic Georg Lukacs (who unknown to him was the model for the character, Leo Naphta) declared Mann the "last great bourgeois writer", writing:

"Thomas Mann is a realist whose respect, indeed reverence, for reality is of rare distinction."

Whether or not the subversiveness, the elusiveness, the concealment to which Kazin adverts is real, it might have contributed fuel to recent attempts to go beyond Mann’s writing and venture into his personal life, in particular for the purposes of reassessing his legacy on the basis of perceived homoeroticism.

This trend is prurient, but in an age of media voyeurism seems to be inevitable. Regrettably, it distracts attention from the writing and the subject matter, which can’t be any more fundamental to the concerns of any civilization, and was regarded as sufficiently meritorious to justify the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Taking Stock of Time and Space

Hans Castorp is an inexperienced and inexpert engineer, a simpleton, a naïf, a neophyte.

When he arrives at the Berghof, he takes stock of both time and space. He takes his bearings, he is measured, he measures himself, so that he can determine exactly where he is and what he's about (as he will later use a thermometer to "measure" his temperature and his illness). However, gradually, he loses his sense of time and place, and as if he were on Olympus or in Heaven or Eternity, his experience becomes timeless, almost dreamlike.

Apart from the dialogues, nothing much happens to Castorp. He doesn’t cover a lot of space. The narrative doesn’t depend on the passage of time, so much as the transmission of ideas. Before we know it, Mann has quietly covered seven years in 700 pages.

In a way, Mann plucks Castorp out of his world, out of his time and makes him listen to pedagogues, perhaps because, like most of us, he is not yet able to think particularly deeply about these issues himself.

Not only is "TMM" a great work of literature, but it is about how a great work of literature works: it takes us on a journey from innocence and ignorance to experience and wisdom. It’s we who experience character development. If we are lucky, we can put our lessons into practice in our lives.

Settembrini versus Naphta

The principal dialogues are between Settembrini (an heroic individualist) and Naphta (a divine collectivist).

Settembrini is an eloquent Italian, "a dark man of graceful carriage, with curling black moustaches." He’s a humanist, an individualist, a rationalist who upholds the beauty and dignity of man:

"Our Western heritage is reason – reason, analysis, action, progress."

Leo Naphta is small, thin, clean-shaven, ugly, hook-nosed, bespectacled, well-dressed. He is a Jew by birth, but a Jesuit by inclination and training. Paradoxically, he is a collectivist who supports both the Catholic Church and Socialism:

"Like many gifted people of his race, Naphta was both natural aristocrat and natural revolutionary; a socialist, yet possessed by the dream of shining in the proudest, finest, most exclusive and conventional sphere of life.

"[In effect, he had made] a declaration of affection for the Roman Church, as a power at once spiritual and aristocratic (in other words anti-material), at once superior and inimical to worldly things."

Perhaps, what Naphta is seeking spiritually is both Heaven in Eternity and Heaven on Earth. Both require a respect for authority, the authority of God (and the Church) and the authority of the State, whether religious or secular.

Sometimes, to establish and protect the authority of a State, it is necessary to use force. In other words, sometimes, Naphta must advocate Revolution and Terror.

Life and Death

The contrast between the two worldviews is revealed in their perspectives on Death.

Settembrini sees Death as part and parcel of Life, as the flipside of Life. If it is differentiated from Life, it takes on a negative quality:

"Severed from life, it becomes a spectre, a distortion, and worse. For death, as an independent power, is a lustful power, whose vicious attraction is strong indeed; to feel drawn to it, to feel sympathy with it, is without any doubt at all the most ghastly aberration to which the spirit of man is prone."

Naphta sees the nobility of man solely in terms of the Spirit, not the organic or animal aspect of the human. Death and disease are in dialectical opposition to the life of the Spirit, yet they govern and influence Life at the level of the non-spiritual human, the animal, the organism that is capable of disease, of illness, of dissolution, of suffering:

"Disease was very human indeed. For to be man was to be ailing. Man was essentially ailing, his state of unhealthiness was what made him man. There were those who wanted to make him 'healthy,' to make him 'go back to nature,' when, the truth was, he never had been 'natural.'

"All the propaganda carried on to-day by the prophets of nature, the experiments in regeneration, the uncooked food, fresh-air cures, sun-bathing, and so on, the whole Rousseauian paraphernalia, had as its goal nothing but the dehumanization, the animalizing of man.

"They talked of 'humanity,' of nobility — but it was the spirit alone that distinguished man, as a creature largely divorced from nature, largely opposed to her in feeling, from all other forms of organic life.

"In man’s spirit, then, resided his true nobility and his merit—in his state of disease, as it were; in a word, the more ailing he was, by so much was he the more man."

Man is less than Spirit.

Point and Counter-Point

Castorp listens to all this and remarks:

"You say we did not come up here to get wiser, but healthier, and that is true. But all this confusion must be reconciled; and if you don’t think so, why then you are dividing the world up into two hostile camps, which, I may tell you, is a grievous error, most reprehensible."

Just as if he is listening to two Greek gods, he regards the two pedagogues as aristocratic. However, in the chapter entitled "Snow", he sees the light in a dream-like state on an Olympian mountain:

"Man is the lord of counterpositions, they can be only through him, and thus he is more aristocratic than they. More so than death, too aristocratic for death—that is the freedom of his mind. More aristocratic than life, too aristocratic for life, and that is the piety in his heart.

"There is both rhyme and reason in what I say, I have made a dream poem of humanity. I will cling to it. I will be good. I will let death have no mastery over my thoughts...Death is a great power...Reason stands simple before him, for reason is only virtue, while death is release, immensity, abandon, desire.

"Desire, says my dream. Lust, not love. Death and love—no, I cannot make a poem of them, they don’t go together. Love stands opposed to death. It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death.

"Only love, not reason, gives sweet thoughts. And from love and sweetness alone can form come: form and civilization, friendly, enlightened, beautiful human intercourse...For the sake of goodness and love, man shall let death have no sovereignty over his thoughts. - And with this - I awake."

The Awakening of Love

So, after point and counterpoint, after the working of the dialectic, finally we have an awakening of Eros.

"Adventures of the flesh and in the spirit...granted thee to know in the spirit what in the flesh thou scarcely couldst have done. Moments there were...when there came a dream of Love...may it be that Love one day shall mount?"

As in "Death in Venice", Castorp awakens to the light of Desire, Lust and Love. Only, while Aschenbach died in peacetime, Castorp survives in wartime.

Still, in neither case does Mann allow us to witness his protagonist mount his Love. Perhaps, after all, it's legitimate for Kazin and others to wonder why Mann denies his protagonists the fulfilment of Love?

This doesn't necessarily mean that we readers are also denied. We must find and consummate our own Love while we fend off Death.

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Homo Humanus

Herr Settembrini,
Homo humanus,
Man of acumen,
Judgement and learning,

Carping pedagogue,
Chronic windbag and
Proudly discerning,

Wielding influence
On those gullible,
Confiding, childlike,
Still full of yearning

With his garrulous
Gift of florid gab,
Lively harangue and
Animus burning.

Naphta's Catholic Communism
[After and in the Words of Thomas Mann]

I believe not in original sin,
But in an ideal state
Of man as the child of God,
A paradise without government
And without force,
In which there is neither
Lordship nor service,
Neither law nor penalty,
Nor sin nor relation
After the flesh.
No distinction of classes,
No work, no property.
Nothing but equality,
Brotherhood and
Moral perfectitude.

Clavdia Chauchat, Hot Cat
[After and in the Words of Thomas Mann]

Whenever he thought of
Her, Clavdia Chauchat,
Kirghiz-eyed and tainted,
Grinning like a hot cat,
He was back in his boat,
Fantasising about
A time crepuscular,
The place a Holstein lake,
Scanning with dazzled eyes,
From the glassy daylight
Above the western shore
To the mist and moonbeams
That wrapped eastern heavens
Round likely lovers, in
Tight embrace, hoping for
Desire evermore.

Sleeping between TB Sheets

Once I received
A circular
Warning me that
I'd possibly
Caught some disease

Mynheer Peeperkorn

Who is this man of Java,
Regal and plutocratic,
Who exclaims in foreign Dutch,
That’s both guttural and thick?

Mynheer Pieter Peeperkorn,
A coffee-king retired,
Larded with money and
Expensively attired.

Indisposed by an aching
Spleen that’s quite inflamed,
He saves a weighty summons for
His small Malayan valet.

His face is sparsely whiskered
And his skull’s white-haired,
Though he is otherwise
Colourless and blurred.

His personality matches
The pallid gaze of eyes,
Each small and pale, beneath
Stern deep-wrinkled brows.

He’s an alcoholic who
Loves to sniff one of those
Fine burgundies with his
Large and fleshy nose,

But better still to sip
The glass in his tight grip
Through his oddly thick
And much distorted lips.

Nevertheless, you know, this
Netherlander from abroad
Is somewhat lean and tall,
His chest robust and broad.

A wealthy business magnate
With a mighty money magnet,
Whose silent push and pull
Towards women gravitates.

Now, it’s Madame Chauchat,
The hero of our tale believes,
With whom the Dutchman’s
Quietly thick as thieves.

For he noticed in dismay
And much perplexity
That their arrival was
Concurrent, if not coincident.

Still, unperturbed, Peeperkorn
Sought a place inside an inn
To take unto himself
A glass of Holland’s gin.

"The Art of Seduction
(For Men and Women Alike)"

Literally translated from the French,
Hopefully preserving its elegance,
"The Art of Seduction", read by a Mensch,
Could teach him a few of the elements
Of sensual passion learned from a wench,
Meant, too, for women of preeminence
Who desire in beaus no arrogance,
Just a man of the world's beneficence,
An aura of debonair resonance
And a suitably furnished residence.

The Egyptian Princess

Only the English guests who chewed
On their cucumber sandwiches
Complained with ascetic attitude
That speaking foreign languages
Was just plebeian and too crude.

Like the extroverted paramour,
Princess of Lesbia and of Egypt,
Who’d exchanged three months’ cure
For a carton of sphinx cigarettes
And a brand new coffee machine.

For she eschewed skirts and blouses
For severely short-cropped hair,
A sack coat and well-pressed trousers,
While her multi-beringed fingers
Were yellow-stained with nicotine.

Except her sickly Moorish eunuch,
She scorned the world of hetero men,
And their rampant egomania,
To pant hot and heavy in the bed of
Frau Landauer, a Jewess from Romania.


Nazi Party Girl
[Apologies to Elvis Costello]

You’re nothing but a nasty party girl
Looking for new party members
That you can check up upon
And add to your collection.

You know the two little Hitlers?
The ones that you’ve been pursuing?
It's said, all's not gold that glitters,
Could fools gold be your undoing?

You think you’re not a guilty party, girl,
But it's obvious your mouth is made up
And some of us know your mind is undone,
The true colours of your flag have unfurled.

You're in a knitting circle, on your
Hobbyhorse, seeking Lebensraum.
If you don’t have the space for us,
Why would we have the time for you?

You’re nothing but a Nazi Party Girl.
You believe you’ve got it made, your pockets
Are full and you’re rolling deep in clover,
But what'll you do when the Party’s over?

[After and in the Words of Thomas Mann]

Out on the streets and
In the market place,
A mighty magic-mad,
Mountain carnival
With harlequins
And columbines,
Shaking rattles
And tin trumpets.
Comic opera and costumes,
Masquerades and bedlam.
Confetti on the ground
And maskers on foot.
Decorated sleighs
And skirmishes.
Champagne and burgundy,
Sweet and spiritous.

The Kiss
[After and in the Words of Thomas Mann]

He beheld the image
Of a life in flower,
Of flesh-borne loveliness,
As she opened her arms,
So unspeakably sweet.
First leaning from above,
She inclined unto him,
Then bent down overhead,
While he became conscious
Of organic fragrance
And the mild pulsation
Of the heart in her blouse.
Something warm and tender
Clasped him around the neck.
Melting with desire,
He sensed her upper arms,
He felt her fine-grained skin,
Heavenly cool to touch.
Then upon his shy lips,
The moist cling of her kiss.

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Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
July 31, 2020
RIP, 19th century!

What a journey it has been, following the slow death of a culture choking on tuberculosis before erupting in a communal suicide. While I was reading the last pages, my son played Schubert's song on the piano - the one that Hans Castorp sang on the muddy trails of world war insanity after seven years of slow motion tragedy.

Where the Zauberberg ends, Remarque's Im Westen nichts Neues takes up the thread and tells the sequel. And then Solzhenitsyn tells the sequel of the sequel in his Cancer Ward. On and on it goes, time-consuming self-destruction of human minds, culture and art. Each generation has its own Magic Mountain, and its own feverish crisis. Danger lurks in the complacent boredom of taking life as we know it for granted. It never was, never is and never will be safe. Our daily rituals can't save us from ourselves. Invisible and powerful, history overwhelms individual anti-heroes like Hans Castorp ...

A masterpiece, this is. One of those books that need time and space and an epidemic of epic proportions to hit you in the solar plexus and make you speech- and breathless.

I was planning on erasing the earlier fragments of a review after finishing reading, to make a "final" and "complete" statement. But then I thought that would be counterintuitive to the meaning of the book, where the passage between "reading" and "having read" equals "living" and "having lived". The book is all about what happened before he died ... and my reading experience is all about what happened before I closed it after a thousand pages. So here is to leaving the past as a palimpsest of the present, my earlier updates are my true reading:

And I continue to work my way through the masterpiece of self isolationist literature, now past 800 pages!

Joachim unwisely broke the isolation of the Berghof to promote his military career and promptly got so ill he died! Clearly he lived in the wrong times, otherwise social distancing would have seemed the wisest and most opportune career move, rather than mingling with hundreds of people in his military environment, exposing his lungs to deadly adventures.

And Peeperkorn has arrived: a man of charismatic power whose bodily presence trumps metaphysics and enlightenment alike. What an interesting move to add a character of that type so late in the story. Naphta and Settembrini are confused in their respective pedagogy, to say the least, and Hans fails at being a perfectly heroic jaloux. Now that is not surprising!

But the story undoubtedly gains speed after hundreds and hundreds of pages of slow progress, from snowstorm to reckless valley adventure to death to naughty gaming party and ... Well, we all know what lingers around the corner of Hans Castorp's safely innocent worldview. His is a world that sees the sun set on all he knows and loves and takes for granted. Obviously he does not know he is heading towards the First World War and the paradigm shift that comes with it - just like we could'nt imagine in January 202o that we would have reinvented our lives by March...

On page 665, I have to give a sign of life!

It is surreal to go on a ski trip with Hans Castorp that turns into a hallucinatory fight against the natural powers of a snowstorm. I want to yell at him: "Why are you doing this? Your lungs are bad already, this is going to end in disaster! And why are you taking me with you? I can't handle this imaginary stress right now. I would even prefer to risk anger-induced high blood pressure from listening to a conversation between Naphta and Settembrini to fighting the elements with weakened lungs!"

I want to lie down in the snow with him too, feeling the narcotic power of a system shutting down in exhaustion. But I know his story is not over yet. There are 300 pages to go and he is destined for another end. So I breathe with him and it feels like eternity. One movement after the other, through the storm. And this is Hans Castorp - the least reckless youth in world literature! The young man who prides himself on his temperature and his skill in wrapping up in rugs for therapy on the balcony.

How did we end up in this unlikely mess?
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,573 followers
November 4, 2013
Imagine being stuck in a place where all sense of time is lost in the web of inactivity, a place which enables people to lead a life devoid of any greater purpose and only focused on recuperation from a queer illness, a place almost hermetically sealed and self-controlled, successfully keeping the repercussions of wars and diplomatic feuds between nations at bay. Imagine being rid of all your earthly woes of finding means of survival and all the elements that stand as pillars supporting the normative structure of life during a sojourn in a special, secluded place. Imagine a miniature diorama of a society thriving on its own, divorced from society at large.
If you haven't been successful in imagining a real life scenario fitting aforementioned descriptions, do not despair. You can always discover this specially constructed safe haven in a certain fictional sanatorium in the Swiss Alps where our protagonist Hans Castorp languishes for seven whole years.

The experience of reading this book is akin to a painstaking hike up a dangerously steep slope. (Excuse the overused analogy but it happens to be quite apt)
There are long dry stretches requiring ritualistic finding of one footing after the next, ensuring that as a reader you do not slip and tumble headfirst into the gaping chasm of incomprehension. And then there are the moments of perfect clarity when snippets of Mann's wisdom filter in like errant rays of sunshine through the drear of many tedious descriptions of long walks and repetitive conversations, making the long and difficult climb seem worth it all of a sudden.
"But he who knows the body, who knows life, also knows death. Except that's not the whole thing - but merely a beginning, pedagogically speaking. You have to hold it up to the other half, to its opposite. Because our interest in death and illness is nothing but a way of expressing an interest in life..."

The summit of this "magic mountain" becomes the location of a metaphorical watch tower from where the spectacle of our collective civilizational march is viewed, dissected and analyzed with precision. The quirky patients inhabiting the sanatorium become mere proxies for some nations or disparate points of view, their inter-relationships often symbolic of some deeper ideological conflict woven intricately into the fabric of existence.
But despite the sheer brilliance of this premise, there's something off about this book. Something that prevented me from according that final star.
Even if this remains a lengthy and eruditely presented discussion on Europe's inner contradictions, its juxtaposition of progress in all spheres of life and violence brewing under the veneer of that sanctimonious progress, as a work of literature it is somehow imperfect and rough around the edges. Since I was often tempted to believe it would have worked better as a nonfictional philosophical discourse. It's sort of like what my eloquent friend Dolors says - 'The book lacks a soul.' How succinctly put. (Read her well-argued review here)

The characters are employed as mere mouthpieces, never resembling well-drawn sketches of actual people with their own stories. The situations and backdrops are mere contrivances specifically begotten to tout ideas on life and death. It's as if the whole narrative is an elaborate ruse developed to convey Mann's thoughts on the state of Europe prior to the First World War. During my moments of exasperation with the book I was able to recall a few of Nabokov's thoughts in his article on Lolita-
"...All the rest is either topical trash or what some call the Literature of Ideas, which very often is topical trash coming in huge blocks of plaster that are carefully transmitted from age to age until somebody comes along with a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, at Gorki, at Mann."

Clearly a jibe at TMM if I have ever seen one.
Not that I agree with Nabokov's opinion on TMM being topical trash but it surely gives rise to the suspicion that if you strip the book of all its allegorical significance, almost nothing substantial remains. And with the turn of the last page, it leaves the reader with a sense of indescribable dissatisfaction about having just finished a journey neither very rewarding nor enjoyable.

Maybe a re-read some time years later on in life will restore the elusive star. Maybe it will not.

Originally posted on:- 31st October, 2013
Profile Image for Matt.
1,019 reviews663 followers
February 20, 2008
If you give this book a chance, and some long quiet hours with your full attention, you will be in the midst of incredible richness.

Wise, erudite, deeply engaged but titanically remote, grand, magisterial, ironic, cosmopolitan, comic in a sly gently mocking way.

They don't write 'em like this anymore. the title is onomatpoeic. The book itself is mountainous....some of the deepest philosophical prophecy on what the 20th Century was, and would become. The characters are allegorical, true, but the character sketches are limned with living detail which suggests more than just "smart guy= intellect" and "rowdy guy= passion" or whatever.

I hated this when I foolishly tried to dip into it as a sophmore in high school. You really gotta be a bit older, wiser, more patient and more ironically inquiring to get the full effect here.

This is one for the ages. Drink it slow and you're bound to find some of the more delcious textures this side of the big hoary giants which everyone already (supposedly) already knows by heart....
Profile Image for Edward.
419 reviews399 followers
April 10, 2017
To read The Magic Mountain is to be wholly immersed in Hans Castorp’s little world, to really take part as Hans and his companions grapple with mankind’s dichotomies: life vs death, action vs intellect, reason vs emotion, naturalism vs mysticism, East vs West, god vs man, and, perhaps above all, love, that singular epitomic contradiction, that wonderful celebration of life, that raison d'être, which capriciously wields the power both to exult and to desolate.

The book’s characters - the wild and charismatic Pieter Peeperkorn, the erudite Herr Settembrini and Naphta (who engage in holy battle for the protagonist’s soul), the enchanting Clavdia, the dutiful Joachim, even the purportedly unremarkable and malleable Hans Castorp himself – all these characters are revealed to be at once genuine and intimately personable yet also representative of external unseen forces that move through the world. Such connections are there for the reader to discover throughout the novel, which deals not only in dichotomies, but in ambiguities (such fertile ground for contemplation).

But what makes The Magic Mountain a pleasure to read is the extraordinary sensitivity to the human condition that is evident throughout. Mann portrays the relationships between the characters in sublime detail, filled with subtle emotional interplay (of uncertainty, desire and conflict), which characterize the complex and segregated internal nature of real human relationships; an insight that is rarely conveyed so well in literature.

The Magic Mountain is long and challenging, but depth of the writing and the consistent beauty of the prose are such that it was rarely boring. There's so much here that I feel it's impossible to absorb entirely in a single reading. This is surely one of those “desert island books” that demand to be read again – a novel that never entirely resolves itself, but reveals more with each reading.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
800 reviews851 followers
September 20, 2012
In 1997, in Jamaica Plain, Boston, ~4 am, mid-June, after a college friend's band that was blowing up at the time played the Middle East and everyone afterwards came back to our place, I remember a coolish girl on our porch saying to me something like "Oh, you like to read? I bet you like boring shit like The Magic Mountain." I don't remember my response but since then whenever I've thought of this book I've flashed to that scene and her assumption that only pretentious little fuckers read books like this. Now, if I time-traveled back to Boston that night (the sun was just barely up, actually -- early summer dawn comes around 4 am) I'd change her mind about me and The Magic Mountain with enthusiastic description of how the book was boring at times, sure, totally intentionally boring at times, I'd say, but shit it's most certainly not. Sure, it's so slow at first it seems like a chore, but I think in fact it's also a mountainous testament to the importance of writerly/readerly patience, more than it's a "magical" read. It didn't get going for me until 330 freaking pages in (706 total). Turns out Mann ain't Musil* -- he's more like a superintellectual Stendhal or, at his best, matches the vivid prose and encompassing scope of Tolstoy. Formally steady pre-modernist approach: no real structural or extended language-y experimentation (other than a 17-page essay on the connection between cellular structure and galaxies). Content-wise, every page seems infused with intellectual talk -- it's explicitly hyper-thematic, a novel of ideas in which the major conflicts are theoretical, a novel that climaxes with a confounding blizzard of argument between opposing intellectuals ("Operationes Spirtuales," p 432-460) followed by a sublime chapter ("Snow," p 460-489) in which the main dude Hans sets out for some solo skiing and gets lost in an actual blizzard of wind-driven snow that gives way to abstractions and hallucinations, like how conflicting theories about Progress or Spirit or the necessity of terror or humaneness are manifested in reality -- first, escalating into real physical conflict between the two intellectual adversaries (the humanist Settembrini and the protofascist Naphta) and then later on real physical conflict among nations driven to war by ideas: "What? Ideas, simply because they were rigorous, led inexorably to bestial deeds, to a settlement by physical struggle?" Overall, I'd award three stars for maybe 600 total pages of this and nine stars for another scattered 106 pages, mostly during three parts: 1) the Mardi Gras bit ("Danse Macabre") in which italicized English indicates French is spoken, 2) the aforementioned chapter called "Snow" and much of the chapter before it that introduces Naphta's horrific backstory (note: freaking Naphta doesn't appear until page 367 -- try getting away with that these days, writer friends -- also, reviews on here mentioning a certain Herr Naphta helped me make it through the first 300+ pages since it was clear that a major character was yet to appear), and 3) the riveting final 20 pages or so (really gets going on page 686 - won't give things away). All in all, things seem intentionally shaped like an arduous ascent in itself. It's a novel that knows it's arduous, trying to induce irregular, elastic experiences of time in readers similiar to those of the characters (time is one of the novel's major themes; its elaboration/presentation here kicks the crap outta -- ahem, ahem -- recent pulitizer winners** also concerned with time). It's a novel that tries to induce a confounded sense in readers, too, erring on the side of a sort of highly managed confusion intermixed with occasional passages of extreme clarity (eg, at one point there's a description of moments when the sides of mountains all around can be seen through temporary openings in the clouds). It's structured like an upwardly undulating slope that ends sort of in open air. The language is always accessible but it's rarely propelled by a narrative engine running on high-viscosity plot. For the most part, the plot involves questions like: Will Hans get sick? Will Hans stay long? Will Hans get the girl he likes? Will Settembrini or Naptha win the struggle for Hans' burgeoning intellectual soul? Will Hans get sicker and die and or freakin' leave this jawn, healthy or not? It's sort of like Paradise Lost, where their sickness (moist spots) and their actual/theoretical removal from the flatlands is their innocence, and Hans over the course of his time on the mountain must awake from his stuporous dream-life where he plays king while expertly wrapped in blankets and waxes about the stars and weighs various philosophies including one involving the supremacy of emotions over the intellect (imagined Pepperkorn in the film played by none other than Don Quixote). Thought about handing out four stars (ye olde 4.5 rounded down) but that seemed more about my restlessness not always dealing with the novel's requirements of audacious readerly patience, not to mention its somewhat underdrawn minor characters, the semi-hokey thing about Hans's unrequited love for a semi-Asiatic pretty boy in grade school he revisits with an alluring lady with similarly slanty eyes and pale skin. Not really a book with many favorable female characters other than one sort of protoliberated object of Hans' lust known for slamming doors. In general, felt like a month-long vacation somewhere I often wanted to leave that nevertheless offered dramatic experiences and vistas and insight. Now I'm glad to be home -- I really look forward to reading a few quicker, easier, shorter books in a row -- but also I feel like the effort was totally rewarded, especially in the last twenty pages. I'd recommend the experience of this book to anyone with ample patience or, better yet, anyone interested in trying to slowly but surely overcome their readerly ADD; everyone else, make sure to read the chapter called "Snow," just under thirty of the finest/most vivid pages I can remember reading in my life here in the flatlands, pages I'm sure to read many more times. Anyway, a major mess-with-me-not weapon to wield against those who argue against the presence of ideas in fiction. Highly recommended to pretentious little fuckers everywhere, of any age over 30 (if younger, I'd wait to read it).

(A note on names -- Naptha's name seems to relate to naphtha: "Naphtha normally refers to a number of flammable liquid mixtures of hydrocarbons . . . It is a broad term covering among the lightest and most volatile fractions of the liquid hydrocarbons in petroleum. Naphtha is a colorless to reddish-brown volatile aromatic liquid, very similar to gasoline." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naphtha)

* The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails by Robert Musil is different in tone, particularly, and for me was more enjoyable/superior throughout, more open and humorous, and somehow also seemed much less dense.

** Recent Pulitzer winners concerned with "time": A Visit from the Goon Squad; Tinkers
Profile Image for StefanP.
163 reviews76 followers
September 15, 2021

Tamo gdje moralna hrabrost nije načisto s tim šta je stvarnost a šta obmana, tu nema života, ni procijenivanja, ni vrijednosti, ni rada na poboljšanju, tu proces raspadanja moralne skepse počinje svoje jezivo dijelo.

Kakva hrabrost glavnog junaka da se spusti i prepusti onoj dubini gdje borave bolesni, mrtvi, ništavni i besmisleni!

Ovo je jedan kontemplativan, filozofski roman koji se bavi svim onim važnim za krepkoću ljudskog bića. Man je riječit i pedantan. Veliko je breme odgovornosti rečenog. Tokom čitave knjige osjeti se jedna vedrina i spokoj. Manu se ne žuri tokom pisanja, pa tako knjiga zahtijeva strpljenje i svestranost. Njegov jezik ide u prefinjenost, ironičnost sa svom svojom savitljivošću. Ničeovski jasan i čist.

Likovi djeluju kao da su khrke tjelesne građe, ali su istovremeno prožeti nesavladivom niti života. Kroz diskurzivnu retoriku koju vode i koja važi kao konstanta za čitav roman, osjeća se neka pozitivna sila, afirmacija nadahnutosti. Oni svojim razgovorima veličaju kult života i smrti, bolesti i inertnosti. Berghof se čini kao jedan idealni prostor gdje njegovi gosti gaje neku svjetlosnu, međuzvijezdanu iskru koja se odašilje sa hladnih visina Davosa.
Profile Image for Nikos Tsentemeidis.
405 reviews207 followers
October 30, 2016
Μόλις τελείωσα ενθουσιασμένος την ανάγνωση αυτού του αριστουργήματος. Δε θα πω ότι πρόκειται για ένα από τα σημαντικότερα μυθιστορήματα, αυτό θα το κρίνει ο καθένας. Δεν είναι αυτό, στο οποίο επιζητάς την πλοκή, αλλά ανήκει στην κατηγορία των φιλοσοφικών, δηλαδή την αγαπημένη μου.

Στο τέλος του πρώτου τόμου, αναρωτήθηκα αν μου αρέσει ή όχι. Η αλήθεια είναι πως βιάστηκα στην ανάγνωσή του και αυτό το διαπίστωσα μόλις στις πρώτες σελίδες του δεύτερου, γι’ αυτό επέστρεψα διαβάζοντας ξανά ορισμένα αποσπάσματα. Το ενδιαφέρον του Μαγικού Βουνού αυξάνεται με αριθμητική πρόοδο. Είναι συνυφασμένο με τις αλλαγές που συντελούνται στην ζωή του κεντρικού ήρωα Χανς Κάστορπ. Μια επίσκεψη τριών εβδομάδων σε ένα σανατόριο στις Άλπεις, καταλήγει σε επτάχρονη διαμονή. Όλη η ουσία του βιβλίου είναι η μεταβολή του ανθρώπινου χαρακτήρα σε συνάρτηση με το χρόνο και σε ένα εντελώς διαφορετικό περιβάλλον.

Η ιδιομορφία του νέου περιβάλλοντος, αποτελεί έναν παράγοντα αποξένωσης και ανεξαρτησίας, ειδικά για την εποχή που γράφτηκε το έργο (1912-1924). Η προσαρμογή σε ένα τέτοιο περιβάλλον προϋποθέτει ένα δυνατό χαρακτήρα, έχοντας ως αποτέλεσμα κάτι πολύ διαφορετικό, καθώς τίποτα δε θυμίζει «τα πεδινά», πρόκειται για μια αρχή εκ του μηδενός. Στη διαμόρφωση του «νέου» χαρακτήρα θα επηρεάσουν οι καθημερινές φιλοσοφικές συζητήσεις με άλλους δύο ασθενείς. Εκεί αρχίζει το ωραίο. Οι διάλογοι αποτελούν τα κορυφαία σημεία του έργου και αφορούν ανταλλαγή απόψεων, πάνω σε θέματα όπως η πολιτική, η θρησκεία, ο θάνατος, η μουσική κτλ. Ένα πολυδιάστατο μυθιστόρημα, άψογα τεχνικώς στημένο.

Η μετάφραση έχει σε κάποια σημεία μικρά προβλήματα, σε καμία όμως περίπτωση δεν δυσχεραίνει την ανάγνωση. Επ’ ευκαιρίας ίσως της εξάντλησης του βιβλίου από τον Εξάντα, θα ήταν η κατάλληλη στιγμή για μια νέα μεταφραστική προσπάθεια.

Δε θα μπορούσα να συμφωνήσω περισσότερο με τον σχολιασμό του ίδιου του συγγραφέα: «Τι μπορώ να σας πω για το βιβλίο και για το πώς μπορεί καλύτερα να το διαβάσει κανείς; Θα αρχίσω με την αλαζονική απαίτηση να μην το διαβάσετε μία φορά, αλλά δύο. Μια απαίτηση που δεν χρειάζεται βέβαια να ικανοποιηθεί, αν κάποιος έχει ήδη βαρεθεί με την πρώτη α��άγνωση. Ένα έργο τέχνης δεν πρέπει να αποτελεί καθήκον, ούτε προσπάθεια, δεν πρέπει να το αναλαμβάνει κανείς παρά τη θέλησή του. Ο στόχος του είναι να παρέχει ευχαρίστηση, να ψυχαγωγεί και να αναζωογονεί.»
Profile Image for Dream.M.
454 reviews90 followers
May 2, 2022
خببببب! بالاخره تمومش کردم.
البته چند روزه تموم کردم و امروز ریویوو نوشتم.
قبل از ریویوو، تشکر از ف که کتاب رو هدیه داده بود.
تشکر مخصوص از صفا که جوری جلد سخت کتابو خورده که باید بدمش صحافی :)))
حالا اگر دوست دارید، ریویوو طولانی منو بخونید.


⁦O_o⁩ چرا نباید «کوه جادو» را خواند:
من در طول صد سال زندگیم کتاب های زیادی خوندم که جزو کتاب های عالی و یا کتاب های درخشان بودن. اما تعداد کمی هستن که میشه به اونها شاهکار گفت . و در بین کتابهایی که خون��م، "کوه جادو" توماس مان حقیقتا شاهکاره. 
پیش از شروع به خوندن این کتاب، می‌دونی که با یک شاهکار طرفی؛ ولی اصولاً اگر طرفدار دو آتیشه ادبیات نباشی، سراغ این کتاب سنگین وزن ۱۰۱۶ صفحه ای نمیری. خوندن این کتاب اینجوریه که با گذشت کمتر از صد صفحه ازش، لحظه ای فرا میرسه هرچقدر هم که عاشق رمان ادبی و غول های تاریخ ادبیات باشی، وحشت تمام وجودت رو‌ میگیره و توی دوراهی بین خوندن و رها کردن بدجور گیر میکنی. چون باوجود شاهکار بودنش، فاخر بودنش، نمادین بودنش و تمام مفاهیم فلسفی و سیاسی قرن بیستمی‌ش، این کتاب چیزی نیست که خفتت کنه و خواب شبو ازت بگیره. کوه جادو مثل بهمنی از کلمات، که تداعی کننده فضای سرد و یخزده کوهستانه، روی سرت هوار میشه و دفنت میکنه؛ و تو باید راه نفس کشیدنت رو از بین جمله های طولانی، پاراگراف های آموزشی و فصل های مربوط به بحث های فلسفی قدیمی باز کنی.
کوه جادو یکی از کشدارترین کتاب‌های روی زمینه که گذر زمان در اون بعنوان لایت موتیف هم برای خواننده و هم برای راوی خیلی مهمه، اما انگار برای قهرمان رمان (اگر بشه کتاب رو دارای قهرمان دونست ) که دیگه حتی حساب ماهها رو هم نداره، مهم نیست. بعضی از پاراگراف های رمان واقعاً ادبی ان. اما بیشتر اونها فقط به این دلیل نوشته شدن که روایتگر گذر زمان زندگی معمولی یک آدم نسبتا معمولی از طبقه متوسط آلمان باشن. (برای کسایی که رمان هفت جلدی «در جستجوی زمان از دست رفته» رو‌خوندن حتما عجیبه که ببینن یک رمان وجود داره که تووش زمان بینهایت بار کشدار تر و تموم نشدنی تر از اونه)
اسم رمان شاید باعث این پیشداوری بشه که قراره کلی ماجرای فانتزی و جادویی توش اتفاق بیوفته. ولی نه. این کتاب، بجز شاید فقط توی دو یا سه مورد، هیچ هیجان خاصی ندارم و ماجرایی توش اتفاق نمیوفته. رو راست بگم؛ این کتاب جونتو بالا میاره تا به وسطش برسه، چه برسه به اینکه تموم بشه. در حقیقت «کوه جادو» رو باید به خاطر خودش خوند و نه چیز دیگه. پس اگر طرفدار حادثه، فانتزی، هیجان، یا داستان هستید، این کتابو با وجود شاهکار بودنش نخونید.

⁦⁩⁦¯\(°_o)/¯⁩ حرف حساب توماس مان در رمان کوه جادو چیه؟
داستان این رمان خیلی طولانی، در آسایشگاهی در کوه‌های آلپ سوئیس، در آغاز قرن بیستم، میگذره که ساکنانش بیمارانی از سراسر اروپا (آلمان، بریتانیا، فرانسه، ایتالیا، روسیه) هستن. این بیماران بین المللی نمایندگان کوچیکی از جهان و بویژه اروپا هستن که قراره پرتره ای از عقلانیت و ضد عقلانیت جوامع به اصطلاح مدرن در برابر وقایع جهان باشن؛ بطوریکه رفتار جنون آمیزی که هر یک از این ساکنان آسایشگاه در انتهای رمان از خودشون نشون میدن، با رفتار کشورهای نماینده شون درست قبل از شروع جنگ جهانی اول، مطابقت داره.
همچنین شخصیت‌های توماس مان توی این رمان قراره نمادی از بیماری فرهنگی اروپا قبل از جنگ جهانی اول هم باشن. غرور بزرگ تمدن غرب که در سراسر اروپای قبل از جنگ جهانی اول گسترش پیدا کرده بود، در این رمان به عنوان بیماری ای تلقی شده که کسانی رو که تحت تأثیر آن قرار گرفته بودن مبتلا کرده. توی رمان مان، ساکنان آسایشگاه بعد از خوگرفتن به محیط ایزوله کوهستانی و آسایش خدشه ناپذیر ، وقت بی نهایت طولانی خودشون رو صرف بحث های بی پایان در مورد رابطه بدن و روح، دموکراسی و مطلق گرایی و مذهب و الحاد می کنن؛ و این دقیقا اتفاقیه که توی جامعه اروپای اواخر قرن نوزدهم افتاده.
البته بررسی این ایده که همین بیماری فرهنگی ،به قول توماس مان، باعث وقوع جنگ شده یا نه؛ چیزیه که احتیاج به بررسی افرادی داره که به تاریخ قرن نوزدهم واردن.

⁦( ꈍᴗꈍ)⁩ برداشت نسبتا نسبتا شخصی:
چیزی که برای من توی این رمان جالب بود اینه که این خود آسایشگاهه که آدم ها رو مریض می کنه. سیستم پذیرش آسایشگاه اینجوریه که همه بیماران به مدت سه هفته بعد از پذیرش، باید در بستر استراحت مطلق کنن. این کار عملا باعث میشه اونها با هر درجه از بیماری( چه مبتلا به سل باشن و چه فقط سرماخوردگی ) به سرعت هر نیرویی را که قبل از ورود داشتن رو از دست بدن و بعد هم برای تشخیص این بی حالی تا بی نهایت بار، تحت اشعه ایکس و معاینه و کنترل درجه حرارت قرار بگیرن. از نظر توماس مان، این تنها کشیش ها نیستن که سعی می کنن آدم ها رو متقاعد کنن که چیز بیمارگونه ای توی وجودشون هست، بلکه دکترا هم همینطورن.
در کنار این تلقینات پزشک ها، میبینیم که خود ساکنان آسایشگاه هم نمی خوان حالشون خوب باشه و از اونجا برن. اونا در پناه یک زندگی راحت، وعده های غذایی درجه یک، بی کاری و دوری از اخبار جهان؛ بعد از مدتی دیگه نمیتونن وارد دنیای کار، ازدواج و مسئولیت اجتماعی بشن. هدف آسایشگاه اینه که نه اونقدر اونها رو خوب کنه که بتونن برن و نه اونقدر ولشون کنه که بمیرن؛ بلکه میخواد یه زندگی جدید رو بهشون پیشکش کنه که تا حد امکان دلپذیر ، بی خیالانه و اعتیاد آور باشه. و این کاریه که مدرنیته با آدمها می‌کنه.

Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,309 reviews757 followers
November 11, 2015
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a contestant for the spot of my absolute favorite novel. The judgment is only being withheld due to the fact that I currently don't have a review for Of Human Bondage, so no accurate comparison can be made as of yet. However. It must be said that if the previous book gave me hope for the human condition, this one explosively revitalized my admiration for the human ideal.

Few people write like this nowadays. Most don't appreciate their world and its myriad ideas and opinions, the sheer amount of conflicting diatribes created by the force of the human brain. If they do, rarely do they make the effort to take on this overwhelming amount of information and distill it down into a message for the future. There's no snapshot of the world at hand that is absolutely gorgeous in what it conveys to the reader, both in quantity and in quality. In light of that, I now have an answer for the which-book-would-you-take-on-a-deserted-island question, as I know for a fact that I could reread this book every day till the day I die, and I'd never not find something new to contemplate and stand in awe of.

This is the well-to-do of Europe before the Great War, living off of old money in a state of pure contentment that, were it not for sheer boredom, would accomplish next to nothing. It is this boredom, this monster titled 'Stupor' referenced in the pages, that forces our man Hans Castorp to distract himself in shifting fashions that model the ever changing obsessions of the continent, from science to political discourse to religious rantings to mystical meanderings. The institution goes through throes of obsession that closely model the 'flatland' from which its denizens came; so too does the violent undercurrent that begins to overwhelm Europe resemble the ever increasing ferocity between those who were formerly combatants solely in the intellectual realm.

The question must be posed: would Hans have ever returned to the world outside of institutional walls, had the War never occurred? Boredom may be a tiresome thing, but would it have been enough to convince him to leave the nest, where time is compartmentalized, stretched, and finally completely ignored into oblivion? Or would he have hung around till his own death, when his excuse for staying finally takes his life, and he is removed from reality in as quiet and unobtrusive a fashion as his ill comrades had been before him? Now, take that question, and apply it to Europe as a whole. What do you see? There's a question for the ages, if ever there was one.

And to tie in to the other wonderful side to the coin: of course the book can't detail absolutely everything worth passing down, but it offers much food for thought, thereby giving the tools required to take on the questions it leaves open-ended in its wake. I could go on. But I will save space for further re-readings, when the fervor is once again fresh and I have more immediate recollection under my belt to spout out. One last thing: books like these are why I read as much as I do. You find a gem like this, and you can't go back.
Profile Image for Beata.
736 reviews1,111 followers
September 11, 2022
Finally I completed the novel which I have wanted to read for decades. Why five stars? It is difficult to explain, not for the plot as there is little going on, four stars for the characters, or rather for their endless conversations and internal monologues, but the fifth star is for how I felt while reading The Magic Mountain. Whenever I started, I spent at least two or three hours non-stop on the top on the mountain, with clouds covering the world beneath. As a keen mountain hiker, I could relate to Hans Castrop and other patients who arrive at Berghof and are unknowlingly immersed by the atmosphere of the place. The magic is in being able to reflect and not wanting to descend. The world just before WW1 through the eyes of cosmopolitan society separated from what is looming and inescapable, won me over.
This novel IS special, not for readers who seek action-packed plots, but if you want to spend many hours up there, go for it.
I am grateful to the Polish actor, Adam Ferency, whose interpretation of The Magic Mountain deserves ten stars. This is one of his best performances ever, and I have listened to many audiobooks read by him. But for his master reading, I would not have experienced this classic.
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,181 followers
October 23, 2016
Ah yes, irony! Beware of the irony that flourishes here, my good engineer.

In my freshman year of college, I took a literature course to fulfill a core curriculum requirement: Sexuality in Literature. It was a great class; we read Plato’s Symposium, Sappho’s poetry, the Song of Solomon, Sade, and Sacher-Masoch. But of all the great books we made our way through that semester, the one that most stuck with me was Mann’s collection of short fiction, which included Death in Venice.

I was a negligent student of literature in high school. Only rarely did I do my assigned readings, and so I had a remarkably poor vocabulary. (In fact, a friend recently borrowed my copy of Death in Venice, wherein I underlined every word I didn’t know; “Man, your vocabulary sucked,” he said as he returned it.) So you can imagine what it was like for me to try and tackle the enormous erudition and sophistication of Thomas Mann. I was underprepared and overwhelmed. It was work enough to simply understand a sentence; unweaving his sophisticated themes and symbols was beyond my ken. Yet I still managed to enjoy the collection; more, I even savored it. The acute joys of reading fine literature, so alien before, were slowly opening themselves up to me.

The point of this autobiographical digression is that Thomas Mann has earned himself a special place in my reader’s heart. So it was with excitement and trepidation that I recently walked into a book store and bought a copy of his most iconic novel: The Magic Mountain.

Now, seven long weeks later, I have set myself the difficult task of reviewing this book. And, make no mistake, the task is difficult; for The Magic Mountain is perhaps the most ambiguous and elusive work of literature I’ve ever read. Even perhaps more so than Ulysses, the novel is a throwing down of the gauntlet, a tremendous, impudent challenge to any would-be critic. So I hope my reader will excuse me if this review it a bit disorganized, a bit slipshod, as I wrestle with this novel’s hydra heads in no particular order.

The premise is simple: Hans Castorp, a likable, if simpleminded, young man visits his cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, in a sanatorium for a three-week stay, and ends up staying seven years. All of the action takes place on the titular mountain—a reference to a sentence in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, where Nietzsche is himself referring to Mount Olympus—as the young, impressionable Castorp gets sucked into the environment. He toys around with ideas, he listens to learned discussions, he befriends interesting personalities, he acquaints himself with death, he falls in love, he indulges in food and alcohol—in a word, he dabbles. He almost entirely forgets about his former life as an aspiring engineer “down there” in the “flatlands”—as the residents of the Berghof call the hustling, bustling world of the healthy below.

When characterizing the style of this novel, one falls naturally into paradoxes: the book is both carefully realistic and deeply allegorical, it is both poetic and prosaic, both lyrical and didactic, both ironic and earnest, both knowing and naïve. Mann accomplishes this feat of ambiguity by adopting a narrative voice of the most gentle and subtle irony. Mann’s own opinions of any of the ideas and characters presented in the book are difficult, if not impossible, to guess at. Simply put, Mann takes no sides; he never professes unguarded allegiance or admiration; everything, in short, is coated in an understated mocking humor. And this ambiguity is summed up perfectly well in the person of our protagonist Hans himself, who dabbles in all things and commits to none, and who is constantly vacillating in his dilettante fashion.

Perhaps as a result of this essential abstruseness, the novel seems to make reference to everything at once. Dostoyevsky often comes to mind, as Mann involves his characters in long philosophical debates, à la The Brothers Karamazov. And like Dostoyevsky’s fiction, Mann creates characters which are allegories for certain philosophies of life: we have Settembrini the rational humanist, Naphta the religious radical, Madame Chauchat the symbol of lust, and, my personal favorite, Mynheer Peeperkorn the hedonist. But then suddenly the novel will take a distinctly Proustian turn, as the narrator indulges in long, lyrical discussions of time, music, and the passing seasons. We sometimes get doses of Faust or even Don Quixote, as Hans, our would-be scholar, our wandering knight-errant, trundles about with Joachim in tow, often getting himself into farcical situations. And then suddenly Dante will appear, with Settembrini as Virgil, Madame Chauchat as Beatrice, and the sanatorium itself as the Mountain of Purgatory—where the patients come to be purged of their sickness, rather than their sins.

What is so arresting about all of these literary parallels is that Mann manages to evoke them in the context of story wherein—it must be admitted—almost nothing at all happens; at least, nothing out of the ordinary. There’s no plot to speak of, no major obstacle to overcome, no central struggle, and even no consistent theme. Rather, the story is episodic in nature (here we are reminded of Cervantes again), and is quite realistic to boot. In fact, on the surface, The Magic Mountain is a fairly conventional novel; at least, it isn’t nearly as difficult to read as either Proust or Joyce. Mann’s sentences, though sometimes long, are rarely rococo; and his dialogue and characterizations are, on the surface at least, rather orthodox. Again, here we see Mann as a master of subtlety, evoking the whole Western cannon in the course of a conversation between a patient and his doctor.

Now let me try to unravel some of the themes heard in Mann's great symphony. One obvious theme is that of sickness and death. Hans encounters a wide variety of attitudes towards illness during his stay. First, we have the medical staff, represented by Dr. Behrens, who sees sickness and death as just matters of business and biology—a matter for science. Contrasted with Behrens, we have Dr. Krokowski, the aspiring psychologist, who sees sickness as unrequited love, as a product of mental tensions. Then, we see Settembrini’s proud disdain of sickness, for it the enemy of vital human life, of social progress. Castorp is inclined to see something poetic in sickness—a kind of ennobling suffering, which parallels the genius’s intellectual struggle. Naphta is wont to praise sickness, for it weakens man’s love of the flesh, and turns his attention to the ascetic Spirit. And we cannot forget the dutiful Joachim, who hates sickness, because it prevents the accomplishment of one’s duty.

Amid the great themes of the novel, we also encounter innumerable smaller motifs. One is that of music. Castorp becomes obsessed with a gramophone; the narrator speculates on the experience of time in music and literature; Settembrini famously calls music “politically suspect.” Another is politics, as the reader gets absorbed in the intellectual clashes between the humanist Settembrini, who champions liberalism and enlightement, and the caustic Naphta, who is a monomaniacal Christian-Marxist-Hegelian. Mann also displays his talents in evoking sexual tension, as Castorp eyes the alluring Chauchat for months and months, just as Aschenbach observed Tadzio.

But perhaps the major theme of this novel is time. In the Berghof, time is experienced differently. Down below, in the flatlands, time is measured in days, hours, minutes, seconds. Up here, in the sanatorium, time is measured in weeks, months, years. Time forms the whole basis of their stay; for their sickness is often likened to a prison sentence, a sentence which is constantly increased. Their day is carefully divided into segments—five meals, “rest cures” (which consist of just laying down for hours on end), and little strolls. They regularly measure their temperature—holding the thermometer in their mouths for seven painful minutes—and chart their fevers through the passing weeks, hoping to see it normalize. One is often even reminded of Einstein’s theory, for time seems to be supernaturally stretched out, dilated and distended, up in the mountain.

Connected with the leitmotif of time is that of acclimatization. When Castorp arrives, he is a stranger in a strange land. Everything is unfamiliar to him. His habits are all out of sync; he finds the patients’ behavior odd and uncanny. But slowly Hans gets used to things (or, as it’s put by Behrens, he gets used to not getting used to things). The reader, too, experiences a sort of acclimatization, as we acquaint ourselves with the Berghof and its many residents. The world of rest-cures and the half-lung club are, to us as well, strange at first, but gradually become intimately familiar. How much the reader himself has gotten used to things is made clear when Hans gets a visit from his uncle. Hans’s uncle goes through the same process as did Hans when he first arrived; but whereas we were outsiders for Hans’s arrival, we are locals for his uncle’s. We are inclined to laugh at the uncle’s incredulity and foreignness; we are now part of the knowing club, and can wink to each other when the flat-footed visiter from the flatlands commits a faux-pas.

Because so much of this novel has to do with getting used to things, it almost demands to be read slowly—a little bit at a time, over many weeks. Indeed, I was almost dismayed at how much time it took me to get through; for not only does the novel take a long time to read, but it feels long. This book simply revels in its own length. One can even go further and say that the experience of reading the novel—to a degree that is almost eerie—mirrors the experience of Castorp as he stays in the Berghof. I picked up the book from the bookstore in almost the same spirit as Castorp when he arrived to visit his cousin—a casual impulsiveness. And gradually, inevitably, I got absorbed in it, entranced by it. I too committed more time than I expected to toy with ideas, to acclimatize myself to a strange place, to put normal life on hold and indulge in an aesthetic experience.

When the reader gets to the 700th page, and reflects that he has been with Hans Castorp for seven whole years, and has gotten to know so many characters so well, he, too, may feel that he has gotten himself a little lost. The atmosphere of the novel, so rich in ambiguity and so full of ideas, may also awake some lingering sickness of soul, or maybe just make us a little dizzy. And now, as I take my leave of the book, I am, like my companion Hans, thrown back into the hustle and bustle of the buzzing flatlands, expelled from the rarefied air of The Magic Mountain—a little wiser, a little more experienced, and, with any luck, a little healthier.
Profile Image for Maru Kun.
215 reviews486 followers
September 9, 2022
‘The Magic Mountain' was first published in 1924 and has as its hero the Everyman figure of Hans Castorp, whom Wikipedia tells us can be interpreted as Mann’s symbol for the Weimer Republic that was formed just five years earlier.

1924 was also a year when the body-politic was beginning to show some early signs of illness, of dark forces within its interior beginning to stir. And, just like that of Hans Castorp when he entered the Berghotel Sanatorium Schatzalp which is the stage for the events of ‘The Magic Mountain’, the temperature of today’s political world is also at an ambiguous 37.7 degrees - not quite high enough to call a fever but a little too high to call healthy as well.

So in 2017 we have to ask: “Is our politics sick?” This is a difficult question to answer, but a few weeks of rest-cure might be just what our political institutions need. It is time to re-open the doors to the Berghotel Sanatorium Schatzalp, pull the dust sheets off the furniture, fumigate the rooms, replace the X-ray machine with an up-to-date MRI scanner and admit some brand new patients in need of medical assistance.

Who will check into our Sanatorium in 2017? Who is our twenty first century Hans Castorp, our Everyman of the Internet Age ready to subject himself to the pedagogic guidance of a modern day Settembrini or risk exposure to the wild ravings of a twenty first century Naphta?

I have a candidate. He is not a trainee engineer like our good Hans Castorp but he does his bit to support our industrial world in a job of symbolic importance equal to that of Hans’ work on his shipping lines: he is a coal plant operator.

Our candidate does not wear Hans’ silk-lined summer-overcoat but rather a bright red sweater. He is not from Germanic Old Europe but rather from the New World. Yes, I think you know who I have in mind for our new Everyman, our new Hans Castorp, he is Ken Bone.

A still picture of Ken Bone undergoing pedagogic instruction through his observation of a debate between a dedicated humanist and a charismatic ideologue.

We have found our new Hans Castorp for a re-opened Sanatorium but where can we find our Naphta? This is, after all, the twenty first century where science and rational thought have progressed further than even Thomas Mann might have imagined back in 1924.

Where can we find a politically extreme, raving ideologue who believes in the ultimate triumph of Judeo-Christian belief over a corrupt, secular society weakened by attachment to bourgeoisie Enlightenment values such as democracy, humanism and free speech? Surely, after having lead humanity into two world wars, such mad ideologues must be a little thin on the ground these days?

Well, apparently not. In fact they are not that uncommon at all. We need only take a trip along Interstates 70, 68 and 69 from Ken Bone’s home in St Loius to arrive in Washington DC and the office of "Senior Counselor to the President" to find our new Naphta in the person of Mister Stephen Bannon. Let us compare Bannon and Naphta’s words, for their ideologies have a lot in common. Here is Naphta on the primacy of divine decree over a secular state that is a manifestation of evil
"...For even if the state’s ungodliness were not branded on its brow, one need only note a simple historical fact—that its origins can be traced to the will of the people and not, like those of the Church, to divine decree—and thereby prove that the state is, if not exactly a manifestation of evil, then at least a manifestation of dire necessity and sinful shortcomings...”

And here is Bannon saying how Judeo-Christian capitalists brought greatness to the West and how “…working men and women…” are tired of the secular state telling them how to “.. comport their lives…”. This speech was made by Bannon in the Vatican during a discussion of right wing Christian movements. Naphta, as a confirmed Jesuit, would have felt quite at home at the same meeting:
“…capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian West. They were either active participants in the Jewish faith, they were active participants in the Christians’ faith, and they took their beliefs, and the underpinnings of their beliefs was manifested in the work they did. And I think that’s incredibly important and something that would really become unmoored

I will tell you that the working men and women of Europe and Asia and the United States and Latin America don’t believe that. They believe they know what’s best for how they will comport their lives. They think they know best about how to raise their families and how to educate their families. So I think you’re seeing a global reaction to centralized government, whether that government is in Beijing or that government is in Washington, DC, or that government is in Brussels. So we are the platform for the voice of that…”

Here is Naphta in a more apocalyptic mood:
"...the Renaissance gave birth to what is known as liberalism, individualism, humanistic citizenship, and all that...[but]...your ideals came to an end long ago - those ideals are dead, or at best lie twitching in their death throes, and those whom they had hoped to finish off have got their foot in the door again..."

Bannon can match Naphta’s ravings without too much trouble. And just like Naphta when it comes to the start of a “…brutal and bloody conflict…” what he is really thinking is that he would love nothing more than to fire the first shot:
"...It was many, many years and decades of peace. And I believe we’ve come partly off track in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism. And we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years..."

It has to be said there are some differences between Bannon and Naphta. When it comes to torture Naphta holds nothing back:
Naphta spoke out in favor of the bastinado. According to him, it was absurd to jabber on about the dignity of man in this instance, for our true dignity was based in the Spirit and not the flesh, and since the human soul was only too inclined to suck its entire love of life from the body, the administration of pain to the body was a highly commendable means by which to spoil the soul’s desire for sensual pleasure and, as it were, drive it back out of the body and into the spiritual realm, thereby restoring the latter’s dominion.

In contrast Bannon confines himself to editing a blog with articles in support of waterboarding and torture (at least for non-Christians) rather than advocating it quite so directly. Such restraint is known as “political correctness”.

We are doing well. The rooms of our re-opened twenty first century Berghof are filling up nicely. But where can we find a larger than life character to complement that lover of rich food and high living, Mynheer Peeperkorn?

Where can we find a character that mesmerizes everyone despite nothing he says making any sense and who also has a keen eye for the young ladies? Mmm. Perhaps it is not so difficult to find someone to check in to the Royal Suite at the Berghof after all. I think you know who I have in mind – the great Orange One himself.

Let’s compare the Orange One’s public utterances with those of Mynheer Peeperkorn. The Orange One can command the adulation of millions despite speaking utter gibberish:
"...Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart —you know, if you're a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I'm one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it's true!—but when you're a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that's why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we're a little disadvantaged…”:

Much like Mynheer Peeperkorn:
“…’Ladies and gentlemen. Fine. How very fine. That settles it. And you must keep in mind and never—not for a moment – lose sight of the fact that – but enough on that topic. What is incumbent upon me to say is not so much that, but primarily and above all this: that we are duty bound, that we are charged with an inviolable- I repeat with all due emphasis-inviolable obligation-No! No, ladies and gentlemen, not that I, how very mistaken it would be to think that I – but that settle it ladies and gentlemen. Settles it completely. I know we are all of one mind, and so then, to the point!’

He had said nothing…all of them, including eavesdropping Hans Castorp, believed that they had heard something very important or, to the extent that they were aware of the lack of anything communicated and of any thought completed, they simply did not miss it…”

Even their hand gestures are the same, although Mynheer Peeperkorn’s hands are that much larger:
“..a forefinger bent to form a circle with a thumb or a palm held out wide, but with tapering nails, to caution, to subdue, to demand attention, only to disappoint his now smiling, attentive listeners with one of this very robustly prepared, but incomprehensible phrases…”.

So something like this:

We have filled another room in the Sanatorium. But what of Madame Chauchat? Who can be Ken Bone’s love interest on our newly re-opened rest home on the Magic Mountain? What figure of womanhood can inspire such a mix of love and lust in our twenty first century Everyman? That at least is easy to answer: Jennifer Lawrence. In Ken Bone’s own words:
“…Maybe she should have been more careful with her pics, but the bad guys are still the ones who sought them out and looked at them. By which I mean guys like me. I saw her butt hole. I liked it….”

Ken Bone, Stephen Bannon, the Orange One, Jennifer Lawrence. The rooms are filling up nicely, but there is still an important room that remains unfilled.

Who is the Settembrini of 2017? Who will provide the pedagogic counterweight that our poor Ken Bone so badly needs to balance himself against the insane ravings of our new Naphta, our White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon? Well, unfortunately that room must remain vacant a little longer; at present there is no-one willing or able to fill that role. Telegrams have been sent to a certain Mr Sanders and Ms Warren to ask whether they would like to take up residence for the season but a reply is still awaited.

There we have it. A new ‘Magic Mountain’ for 2017. I am worried about whether I can maintain my health (mental and physical) for the full four years I have been booked in by the Director.

As for Ken Bone’s prognosis, I think a glance at Hans Castorp’s case history will tell us all we need to know:
“…Farewell, [Ken Bone] — whether you live or stay where you are! Your chances are not good. The wicked dance in which you are caught up will last many a little sinful year yet, and we would not wager much that you will come out whole….”.
Profile Image for P.E..
762 reviews529 followers
March 3, 2023

Have you ever been moved by a book, much more than you would have thought when you have finally closed it after your first reading?

It certainly happened to me with this one, up there. I find myself ceaselessly comparing plots and novels and even non-fiction I am currently reading to the developments, characters, ideas, scenery and the passage of time I have found in the Magic Mountain, nearly three months ago.

For my embarrassment, I can't pinpoint what precisely in this translation of Mann's novel is chiefly responsible for this unaccustomed state of affairs.

Is it the fiery discussions between Settembrini and Naphta, leading me back to my readings of 2020 about the French Revolution, the Vendée Wars, the USSR, politics and ideology?

Or is it something about the sheer layout of the novel, following young Hans Castorp as he changes tastes, opinions, fixations, the way I precisely find myself changing them regularly as though they were garments, to only keep reading as an unshakeable habit and raison d'être?

Perhaps it has something to do with the pace of life in the Berghof, something I must admit I have been contemplating and aspiring to for a score of years now? A place where I can read at leisure, to only trouble myself with the import of the last book, the way my opinion and aesthetical observations and impressions about it differ from my fellow patients. Seen from the bank of the mundane river of everyday life, I can't say even today that such a fate would depress me. And that is taking into account Thomas Mann's apparent will that this text serve as a word of warning against yearning for such a contemplative lifestyle. A warning we can surely find embodied in average, lethargic, self-aggrandizing Hans Castorp, sticking to nothing, concerned about passing whims or caduceous matters, not betting on the long run or so it would seem, meeting a short-lived and utterly absurd end.

Perhaps I feel stronger sympathies with Hans that I would have dared to admit in the first place. Indeed what is the essential difference between the indifferent engineer and the employee merely bidding his time, waiting for the rest hour to play to a trading card game, to worry himself only with the laundry, the maintenance of the car, the daily shopping, the plans of future trips, the future flat, the highly hypothetical future job, and the reading to his heart's content?
Perhaps that of the reading to my heart's content?

Possibly it has something to do with the realization, slowly dawning in my habituated brains of recently long-term contract worker, that changes are an intrinsic invaluable and unescapable part of life, that one has to embrace them and himself in the process. That mere living by habit is not keenly different from not living at all. That choices are to be made everyday and are made everyday in any case. That the enchantment of the magic mountain is no ward against the passing of time, of friends, of potential future selves. That it takes dedication to live.

It might be that.

See also:

Scènes de la vie future
Berlin Alexanderplatz
The Castle ; The Trial
L'Étranger ; L'Homme révolté
Dubliners ; Ulysses
Valis ; The Owl In Daylight ; The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch ; Ubik
L'immortalité, L'identité, Risibles Amours, Le Livre du rire et de l'oubli
En attendant Godot
Le Désert des Tartares
Péguy : Oeuvres en prose complètes, tome 1
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Heart of Darkness
Мастер и Маргарита
The World as Will and Representation
L'Éducation sentimentale
Runaway Horses
The Republic
Le Déclin du courage
La rebelión de las masas
Nouvelle histoire de la Révolution française
Преступление и наказание ; Братья Карамазовы
Le Désespéré ; Exégèse Des Lieux Communs
The End of History and the Last Man
Natural Right and History
Desolation Angels
The Odyssey
Les Chants de Maldoror

Musical score:
Orpheus in Hell - Offenbach
The Marriage of Figaro
Carmen - Bizet
Aida - Verdi
Faust - Gounod
Am Brunnen vor dem Tore - Schubert & Silcher
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