Colm Toibin Dreams of Thomas Mann’s Life in ‘The Wizard’


Toibin takes control of this sweeping story that begins in Lübeck, a coastal city in northern Germany, where Mann’s father is a wealthy grain merchant and senator, and his mother is a passionate woman of Brazilian descent. As “The Magician” points out, Mann’s personality owed much to this mixed legacy: father, hard-edged, callous, “northern”; The mother was his opposite in every way. All of this is revealed in Mann’s highly successful and autobiographical debut novel, “Buddenbrooks.”

While writing this novel, Mann hardly mentioned it, not even to his older brother, Heinrich, who was himself a formidable novelist (a popular film adaptation of one of the “The Blue Angel” books) and his lifelong rival. After reading a few of her son’s poems, the young writer was “feared” by a bad comment from his mother, that “a single, withering word would be enough to make him doubt his worth”: “I want to break your urge to write. From school reports, you have no talent for applying yourself to anything.” I know.”

The “Wizard” proceeds in chronologically separate pieces of life, but Toibin gravitates towards Mann’s inner life from the start, often working symbolically, just as the young boy is taken to the beach by his mother and cautiously steps into a bustling and turbulent sea. . Thomas “was approaching the waves, pulling himself in, first frightened by the cold, jumping every time a gentle wave came, and then letting the water embrace him.” This hesitant approach to life would become a habit.

Toibin follows Mann from childhood to marriage and early success (Nobel Prize in 1929), exile from Nazi Germany to Switzerland and America. It’s pretty exciting to watch him bargain in deep, dark waters, as with the rise of Hitler, which he doesn’t take seriously until the end of the game. The novel mostly focuses on Mann’s uncertain (if comfortable) life abroad. Despite personal and political obstacles, he moves forward with selfish determination, building big new homes, restructuring the nuclear family, advancing his writing with an almost formidable consistency of purpose. As her youngest son bitterly stated in a late letter: “I am sure the world is grateful to you for the undivided attention you have given to your books, but we, your children, feel no gratitude to you, or indeed to us. mother sitting next to you.”


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