The Magic Mountain Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
It was The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg) that confirmed Thomas Mann as a Nobel prizewinner for literature and rightly so, for it is undoubtedly one of the great novels of the 20th century.
Its unusual story - it opens with a young man visiting a friend in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss Alps - was originally started by Mann in 1912 but was not completed until 1924. Then, it was instantly recognised as a masterpiece and led to Mann’s Nobel Prize in 1929.
Hans Castorp is, on the face of it, an ordinary man in his early 20s, on course to start a career in ship engineering in his home town of Hamburg, when he decides to travel to the Berghof Santatorium in Davos. The year is 1912, and an oblivious world is on the brink of war. Castorp’s friend Joachim Ziemssen is taking the cure, and a three-week visit seems a perfect break before work begins. But when Castorp arrives he is surprised to find an established community of patients, some of whom have been there for years, and little by little, he gets drawn into the closeted life and the individual personalities of the residents.
Among them are Hofrat Behrens, the principal doctor, the curiously attractive Clavdia Chauchat and two intellectuals: Ludovico Settembrini and Leo Naphta with their strongly contrasted personalities and differing political, ethical, artistic and spiritual ideals. Hans Castorp’s stay is extended, once, twice and still further, as he appears to develop symptoms which suggest that his health, once so robust, would benefit from the treatments and the mountain air.
As time passes, it becomes clear that the young man, with a particular interest in shipbuilding and not much else, finds his outlook and knowledge broadened by his mountain companions, his intellect stretched and his emotional experience deepened and enriched. Hans Castorp is changing, day by day, month by month, year by year, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes with a sudden advance, as he encounters the varied range of sparkling characters, their comedies and tragedies, their aspirations and their defeats.
The Magic Mountain is a classic bildungsroman, an educational journey of growth - a genre that began with an earlier novel in the German tradition: Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. It is presented here in the acclaimed modern translation by John E. Woods and is told by David Rintoul with his particular understanding for Thomas Mann as displayed in his widely praised Ukemi recording of Buddenbrooks.
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|Listening Length||37 hours and 27 minutes|
|Audible.com Release Date||May 14, 2020|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #6,932 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#113 in Psychological Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
#237 in Classic Literature (Audible Books & Originals)
#289 in Psychological Thrillers (Audible Books & Originals)
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My 5-star rating is just because it was hard to figure out a rational rating for an informational note like this.
The Magic Mountain is also very much of its era. It was exactly luxurious institutions like the Berghof, along with those big hotel-spas in which the rich lived as they moved indolently over the face of Europe, that became impossible after WW I. But as the Settembrini-Naphta debates make very clear, the pleasures of unearned wealth and of relative peace are more passionate than Enlightenment values can address. Given the luxury, the lassitude and the license granted by tuberculosis and its promise of an early death, sexual, aesthetic and even mystical concerns become prominent. Mann gives us a great wallow in the Dionysian and doesn't, I think, endorse the life lit by reason unequivocally, although he's more skeptical about attaching value to a moribund leisure class. Which is only to say that I'm finding The Magic Mountain unexpectedly relevant for thinking about the One Per Cent and the rest of us on the flatlands.
Thomas Mann's classic is among the top five to ten of my list of favorite novels, one, like Gravity's Rainbow or Mickelsson's Ghosts, that I will reread every few years or so. As with any "classic" novel, it works on numerous levels, is grand in scope, philosophical in depth, populated with memorable characters. It is a novel that makes you think. It teaches.
The novel takes place in the years before World War I. Hans Castorp, the protagonist, travels from his home in Hamburg, to vist his cousin, Joachim, who is recuperating from tuberculosis at the sanitorium Berghof in the Swiss mountains. He plans to spend a few weeks with his cousin before assuming his new engineering apprenticeship in Germany.
What transpires over the following 700+ pages is a look at life, and death, in this isolated community of international patients representing all philosophical and political viewpoints. Mann uses the sanatorium as a microcosm of a terminally ill Europe as it approaches the Great War. Hans Castorp is the naive, non-political engineer who is pulled and cajoled by anarchists to socialists, to monarchists. And there is intrigue. There are detailed medical descriptions concerning the life and care at a turn of the century sanatorium, much of it gleaned from Mann's own stay at such a facility when his wife was recuperating from tuberculosis.
For me, Mann created an alien world, yet so interesting that I didn't want to leave it. There are great discussions on the concept of time, and how time for the patients, confined to the mountain and to their daily regime, seems compressed: six months are like a few weeks to them.
There is too much within the pages of this book to do it any justice. There have been entire books written about The Magic Mountain, and many essays
I read this book more than 20 years ago, as a teenager. Then, I read about a personal story, perhaps symbolic regarding the customs and ideas of Europeans of that time. I identified with the main character and his uneventful life, broken from its rhythm not of his own choice. I cried in the last page. Now I read this through an entire new lens, which might be superseded by another in 20 years' time. But what I perceive is the human conflict in the slow, predictable and boring life of the sanatorium, occupied by ill people from all over the world. The tension rises between a few, while the majority is slow to grasp the intensity and the fervor behind the ideas.
It is one of the most exasperating books on earth, some chapters you just want to end, and you think of giving up altogether - but then something happens, you keep going. Nothing fundamental has changed (isn't it true of most lives?), but there is just enough to keep the interest. The passage of time is the leitmotif, and it matters for the reader and narrator, but not to our hero, whose nails and hair grows, and that's how he notices time. You, as a reader, know that you are reading the masterpiece of a literary genius, and some paragraphs are indeed "literary". But most are just there because the narration, like the passing of time, does not recoil from the ordinariness that consists most of human life.
The unremarkable can be staggering in its constancy and ability to involve your whole being. You pay close attention to Hans Castorp's life and think: is he wasting it? What is the purpose after all, why did he love, why was he a friend, why anything if it all comes to...?
Top reviews from other countries
I don’t quite know what to say about my impressions of this work. As a read, it’s quite hard going. By tackling a few pages at a time, I managed to get through it all and I’m glad I did. I’m sure I’ll still be thinking about the mountain sanatorium and its occupants many weeks, months and years from now. It’s that kind of book - one you will return to over and over again, always finding something new to discover you missed the first time around.