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Novel by the German author Thomas Mann, published in 1924. German title: Der Zauberberg. Set in a Davos/ Switzerland mountain sanatorium in the years before World War I, it follows Hans Castorp, a patient from northern Germany as time passes in the sanatorium - slowly, at first, but then, the days fly by.
Der Zauberberg is enjoyable on many different levels. It explores ideologies, namely classical liberalism and communism, bourgeois thinking, religion and metaphysics. Its language is gorgeous, filled with tongue-in-cheek irony and subtle humor.
Despite its close to 1,000 pages, it is an immensely enjoyable book, that is worth re-reading over and over again. It has attained a certain cult following, and many people visit Davos to see the real sanatorium there.

Der Zauberberg (1924) ( = Magic Mountain) by Thomas Mann

The novel is a typical Bildüngsroman ( = a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character) in which Hans Castorp , a naive and impressionable young man, visits his tubercular cousin Joachim at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. During his visit he is diagnosed as having the disease and stays on the magic mountain for a number of years.

As might be expected, he meets a number of patients who have widely differing politics and philosophy. Isolated from the world in an environment of sickness and decay he is compelled to examine the meaning of love and death and how they may influence one another. In the process he attempts to find a pattern that will emerge from his discussions with his companions, and from his own musings. Considering World War I that is to follow, the most poignant moment is when Naphta, a Jewish-born Jesuit, defends the use of terror and murder for the sake of an all-encompassing idea. Eventually Castorp leaves the sanatorium and Switzerland to return to Germany to fight in the war that breaks out.

The style of the work might be called turgid when compared with the realism of modern works in the English language. Still, Mann eloquently captures the spirit of the time. To immerse oneself in the Magic Mountain is to breathe the air of the Swiss mountains, to sense the doom hanging over the patients of the sanatorium, to struggle with the contradictions of any age.
Even on the surface, Magic Mountain is replete with fascinating and unusual characters, and the development of Hans Castorp as the Bildungsren is truly fabulous. There is also that second layer, which construes the novel as a microcosmic representation of pre-WWI Europe, along with all of its nationalistic yearnings and the interplay of complicated philosophical viewpoints. Most fundamentally, perhaps, is that it is truly a book about the passage of time. In keeping with this time-romance, the themes of the book are written and interwoven in an almost musical fashion, pushing the evocative capabilities of the written word to their very limits.

In the forward to my crumbling 2nd edition, Thomas Mann self-consciously requests that the book be read not once, but twice. Upon finishing the book, I agree totally. It is not for the faint-hearted (having taken me about a year to complete, with breaks), but the over-arching structure of the novel can be much better appreciated without struggling to understand the plot as it unfolds.

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