The Magic Mountain
Beginning as a fiction rooted in Thomas Mann’s reflections while his wife spent months in a Swiss sanitarium, The Magic Mountain would not be the book it is but for the coming of the Great War, which interrupted the writing. The plot itself is not complex – man winds up in a sanitarium in the Alps, his stay continually extended until it spans some seven years; man meets a diverse cast of characters along the way, is released and joins the military. But what began as something of a comic novella became altogether different in the aftermath of the war – a reflection on modernity, on European enlightenment thought, on the nature of civilization and the competing theories and moralities of post-war Europe.
Influenced in no small part by the skepticism-bordering-on-nihilism of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Mann writes something akin to a typical coming-of-age story in which it is not the individual character so much as all of Europe that makes the journey, confronting its fractures, its failures, its evils, and beginning the process of coming to terms with the chasm between its mythology and its reality. And unlike your typical growing-up tale, too, The Magic Mountain stops short of the great revelation that brings insight, ending instead with the precipice, the dark unknown.
Mann’s writing is intellectual, challenging, critical, his novels and short stories intended primarily to engage in reflection upon and discussion of issues of human psychology and society. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929, he remains one of the most important voices of modern German literature.