Tuesday, March 3, 1998

Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as Told by a Friend

by Thomas Mann
translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter

This 500-page tome is a dense, rich experience detailing the deterioration of Germany from a paragon of culture in the 19th century to a force-worshiping anathema by the ignominious end of WWII.  The narrator, Serenus, is a staid, conservative Catholic bourgeois, who worships his subject, the composer Adrian.  This latter is a Lutheran, possessed with musical genius and detached from the world after a sinful tryst.  Adrian's genius and madness parallel Germany's genius, its symbolic deal with the devil to exchange power for culture, and its fall.  Along the way, Mann expounds at length and at great detail about the state of religion, art, teaching, politics and class structure in modern Germany, explaining how men like Serenus could stand back and let the fatherland they worshiped become such an ugly beast.  This is one of the most difficult novels I have ever read, and I think I have a few problems with the translation, which is nonsensical at points, but it was all worth it.  The tale works on so many levels it's hard to connect them all; still, even as a tale, or even as commentary on the state of arts in war-torn Germany, it's fascinating. 

four stars