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Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as Told by a Friend Paperback – 28 Oct 1996

5 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (28 Oct. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0749386576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0749386573
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 123,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"John E. Woods is revising our impression of Thomas Mann, masterpiece by masterpiece." (The New Yorker)

"Doctor Faustus is Mann's deepest artistic gesture. . . . Finely translated by John E. Woods." (The New Republic)

"Arguably the great German novel" (New York Times)

"Perhaps not since Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus has a novelist conveyed so tangibly and exaltedly the mechanism and the aesthetic effect in musical performance" (New York Times)

"The real masterpiece" (New York Times)

Book Description

A masterpiece of German modernism and one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Well, what can you say? If Felix Krull is the novel that would have perfected Mann's form, Faustus was the one which actually did. The technicality of language and construction of novelistic technique here is like Nabokov tenfold. It is unsurpassed, even by Proust. And while it may lack the sublime artistry of Proust, Mann has his own inimitable style of beauty. The going is very slow, it takes you down two gears as a reader, and then another, as you absorbe all the dense but vague symbolism (that of Germany and her Mephistopheles, Hitler), and the complex character which is based on Schonberg. If you enjoy literature in its perfected form, National Socialist German history, Goethe's Faust legend, or dodecaphonic music, you can do no finer than this.
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Format: Paperback
Although translations always take something from the original, those of us who have troubles reading Mann's admittedly difficult German will surely find the reading quite pleasing. The dark and philosphical atmosphere of Mann's final masterpice is wonderfully captured in this translation. Mann's interplay of reality and imagination already permeated his "Magic Mountain" and "Joseph and his brothers", but I find that it is in "Faustus" where he finally loosens all boarders between the real and the imaginary. The reader therefore never be quite sure whether Mann is taking the objective or subjective perspective. The novel completely lacks the lightness of touch Mann used in the "Buddenbrooks", and reflects Mann's vision of the World War II. The story is only superficially similar to Goethe's Faust, and I found it very different in both tone and storyline. But both books are masterpieces and both try to explain to us what it takes to be human.
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Format: Paperback
Deep as an ocean, inscrutable, regretful, cold. Emotional sterility compelling Time's Flower to doomed devotion.
The truly terrible price of genius and its pain as dehumanizing infliction.
Magic/music as synonyms.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa1469228) out of 5 stars 38 reviews
102 of 110 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0c9e558) out of 5 stars Thomas Mann at his tragic best! 5 Jan. 2000
By D. Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For those of you who have not done so already, I would highly recommend reading Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Faust" before taking this one on. It will make more sense that way and will also provide a remarkable opportunity to see the evolution of a wonderful myth. Now, to attempt to summarize a masterpiece like this in a few words is absurd, but I will do my best. Marlowe's Faust is the most straightforward of the three (not that it is not a great work of literature itself, mind you). Faust is an absolutely brilliant character who is so brilliant, in fact, that he is bored with life. So he makes a deal with Mephistopheles (one of Satan's demons) that he will have 25 years of almost omnipotence, being able to do anything and possessing almost god-like powers. However, when the 25 years are up, his soul will belong to the devil. Goethe's Faust is one of the top 5 or so greatest exemplars of literature ever written. It is, quite simply, astounding. In short, the plot is kinda/sorta the same, only in Goethe there is no time limit in the agreement with Mephistopheles. Rather, at the point when Faust ceases to press on and becomes sedentary, the devil has him. It is the moment in which Faust utters "Stay, moment, stay....thou art so fair" that he will be doomed. I do not want to say anything more about Goethe's Faust so that I can refrain from giving anything away. At any rate, enter Thomas Mann with a 20th century twist on the myth. Adrian Leverkuhn sells his soul to the devil for a new form of music. Satan grants his wish and gives him Schoenberg's 12 tone. (Of course, it is Leverkuhn's 12 tone in the novel). For Mann, this was symbolically a representative of how 20th century man sells his soul to the devil; it is thru the trivialization of art. The 12 tone, although a brilliant conception, is none-the-less something other than music for Mann (and for myself, if I may add). Mirrored to Leverkuhn's fate is the seduction of the German people by Adolf Hitler. Hitler promised them great glories and a feeling of invincibility. For a brief time (like in a Faustian pact) he delivered on his promise. However, in the end, the Germans paid dearly for their hubris. The end of the war brought along with it the destruction of Her Dresden China; Dresden, the very cultural and artistic heart and soul of Germany, was all but destroyed. This book is truly an epic and is not for leisure or light reading. However, it is a must for anyone interested in the Faustian myth, World War II, German history, Thomas Mann or any combination thereof. A tremendous novel.
51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0bdaa20) out of 5 stars A dream without a soul is a nightmare 27 Mar. 2003
By Joanna D. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found "Dr. Faustus" the most challenging of all Mann's novels to read. It is dense with symbolism, history, philosophy and digressions into frank editorializing by the author, who interjects his voice into the story in a disconcerting way.

The philosophical ramblings of "The Magic Mountain" are similar--the Dionysian Weltanschaung of the Jesuit (Naphta) and The Voluptuary (Peeperkorn) versus the Apollonian (Settembrini) are used as metaphors for a debauched and dying Old Europe versus the New Europe to be reborn after the convulsions of World War I. And they are also symbolic of the failure of "pure reason" and politically correct Art to save a society with no soul, where human lives are scored on a worth-scale and have no intrinsic value as endowed by their Creator. In "Dr. Faustus", Mann revisits the German split personality (order versus bloody chaos) and makes it more intimate; he desperately wants to unearth what is it about the German Soul that gave us both World War I and then its offspring World War II and Hitler. Mann spends the rest of the book examining the German soul in the character of Adrian Leverkuehn and the forces influencing his life.

This is a brilliant book in that it takes the favorite Faust theme so loved by the Germans and re-tells it in a compelling fashion. Where the reader will have difficulty is that they will miss many of the character names that are sly jokes (if you are not a German speaker), and in following Mann's dense prose, followed by digressions into his own musings. And then you need to be somewhat familiar with European history and cultural icons.

Leverkuehn sells his soul to the Devil for the ability to compose the world's most perfect musical work. Here is the meeting of Apollo and Dionysus; the music is modeled on Schoenberg's astringent 12 tone scale of systematic composition based on his constructed rules of music; the Devil seeks Chaos and destruction of God's creation and Man's immortal soul. Leverkuehn gets his wish from the Devil; he creates his immortal music, but he loses the most human of abilities; that to love and be loved. As he tries to escape the deal he made, he is struck down and the objects of his love are similarly destroyed. The devices Mann employs --a stroke following a bout of venereal disease, are realistic and are incredibly clever; these things COULD happen to a man in real life, though we are reading a fable about selling one's soul to a Devil made into an actual character. One of Mann's very early short stories (The Wardrobe) employs this same duality in storytelling; a sick man takes a train ride. Does he arrive at his destination, does he stop at a hotel where he meets a mysterious woman in his wardrobe, or does he die in transit? What is reality and what is fable here?

On its own merits, "Dr. Faustus" is not Mann's best book but it is perhaps his most personal. The author is telling a story to the willing reader as if he were almost reading it aloud, and taking asides to discourse on his deepest feelings as an exile from his homeland. If you are a Thomas Mann fan, it's worth reading after "Magic Mountain" prepares you for Mann's characteristic style and themes.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0c52e04) out of 5 stars Artist Meets Scientist 26 Dec. 2006
By Alan Mason - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In Doctor Faustus, arguably his greatest book if not the greatest book ever, all of Mann's formidable gifts come together. Lying at the heart of Mann's concern is the central figure of Adrian Leverkuhn, theologian turned composer. In him all the warring impulses, all the contradictions of our age are focused. "Cold" by nature, inclined to mathematics and to "speculate the elements" as scientists do, he yet craves the freedom and unrestraint of art, specifically music, the most demonic of the arts. But the fearful complexities of modern composition and his own innate coldness form an insuperable barrier, he needs something to kindle him to his destiny as a great composer. This turns out to be the Devil, who in a memorable interview heavy with fate offers him a quick way out of his difficulties.

The book teems with unforgettable images. To pick a few at random: the extended description of Adrian's sojourn in the Italian countryside, where he meets the Devil and his fate is sealed; the wintry excursion to the Bavarian Alps; the vision of the children in the choir singing a motet to Adrian, bedecked with rubies on their fat hands while little yellow worms crawl from their nostrils down into their chests in the finest diabolic style. The density and vividness of Mann's imagery, its capacity to fill the mind and linger there, is Shakespearean.

Mann's treatment of his characters is sensitive, fine-grained, subtly ironic, and humanly engaging, with much wry humor. The amazing chapters dealing with Schwerdtfeger's vicarious wooing of Marie Godeau for Adrian, the piling up of layers of meaning and subcontext (including the latent homosexuality that runs like a provocative thread throughout Mann's writings), amount to a virtuoso performance whose incredible, sustained brilliance is rivaled only by Joseph's interview with Pharaoh in Joseph and His Brothers, also by Mann. Those readers who complain that the narrator Serenus Zeitblom is a tedious boor, that the other characters are lifeless cardboard cutouts, and that nothing ever happens, simply haven't gotten to first base with this novel.

What then is the problem? It is one that Mann himself wrestled with and which for a time led him to consider the work a failure, although he was determined to finish it. The problem is that the story cannot just unfold naturally and tell itself. A certain amount of history, of context, is needed to motivate the character of Adrian Leverkuhn; readers must be made to understand why the problems he wrestled with are not peculiar to him but arise inevitably and are universal -- in short, our problems as well. This context-building necessitates a rather long, abstract, and careful development. With his daughter Erika's help, the original manuscript was cut extensively to leave only the most essential material, but even so this development occupies the first third of the book. Anyone interested in Western history will find it fascinating, while those who aren't will be richly rewarded for persisting, for the narrative pace, at first imperceptible, does pick up and toward the end becomes irresistible, like the final running out of the sand in Adrian's hourglass.

Given that Adrian's concerns are ours as well, what are we to do about them in our own very different age? What meaning does the concluding high G on the cello in Adrian's final work, that abides like a light in the night, hold for us? When we strip away all the inanity, futility, and trash of our era, what is left? Not art, alas, for art is a finite store that has been exhausted. But there is science, which is unlimited and inexhaustible, and it is specifically the scientific aspect of Adrian's nature, his tendency to "speculate the elements", that is meaningful for us. Modern biology now offers the prospect of understanding and manipulating the essence of life itself. Will it just be more "devil's juggling", more falling down in the dust to worship the quintillions, from which Zeitblom protested nothing human can ever emerge? Can man be trusted to resist temptation in carrying out such a program? Can the devil and the humane even be separated from this vital substance? No one can tell us, yet the essence of the problem is already fully present in symbolic form in Doctor Faustus. This is the triumph of Mann's representative art, of the Artist way. As we continue on the precarious, ever-changing path of self- and world-discovery, Mann's book stands as a guidepost and a warning. This is the enduring significance of Doctor Faustus and the reason why it will always be with us for as long as we remain recognizable as a species.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa155a30c) out of 5 stars A demanding and crucially important read 24 April 2008
By Rebecca M - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It is rare that it takes three months for me to finish a novel, but
this novel operates on so many levels it is difficult to read more than a few chapters before you need to stop to digest. Keeping track of the numerous secondary characters is a painstaking, but worthwhile, endeavor. Mann forms his environment with this multitude, presenting a photograph of German bourgeois life in the early 20th century.

The book warrants musicological analysis in its debt to Schoenberg, its continuation of the intimate connection between Faust and music, and its portraiture of Germanic musical existence (for starters). But even outside of musicological inquiry, the book is full of literary paths one can tread should they choose. The relationship between the book's narrator and his forsaken hero, Adrian, dallies in sentiments rarely explored between two male characters. There are some echoes of Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund, except that Adrian Leverkühn's encounter with "love" comes with dire consequences.

I'd like to re-read the novel with a focus on the music only, because what resonated for me most loudly was how the book serves as a treatise on the dangers of blind nationalism. The narrator, Zeitblom, frustrates the reader with his various digressions, until you realize they are not digressions at all, but instead carefully considered allegories. His reflections about wartime Germany telescope into Adrian's own struggles. There were moments that made me stop and put the book down as I was yanked into my own reality:

"...the democracy of the West--however outdated its institutions may prove over time, however obstinately its notion of freedom resists what is new and necessary--is nonetheless essentially on the side of human progress, of the goodwill to perfect society, and is by its very nature capable of renewal, improvement, rejuvenation, of proceeding toward conditions that provide greater justice in life." (358)

I suppose I still believe this...but I note also Zeitblom's comments a couple of pages earlier regarding Germany:

"It is the demand of a regime that does not wish to grasp, that apparently does not understand even now, that it has been condemned, that it must vanish, laden witht eh curse of having made itself intolerable to the world--no, of having made us, Germany, the Reich, let me go farther and say, Germanness, everything German, intolerable to the world." (356)

This is why I read.

Readers who have no musical background will likely find themselves frustrated with some of the lengthy musical explications. I suggest skipping/skimming them. Normally I would never recommend this, but there is so much else to be had from reading this novel that it would be such a disservice to throw the myriad babies out with the musical bathwater. For the musically-inclined reader, however, the plethora of references to composers and pieces is a ready-made listening list and a chance to experience a nation's struggle with both political and aesthetic ideologies.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa3f60b40) out of 5 stars The soul sold to the devil 13 Nov. 2002
By Guillermo Maynez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In this reenactment of the ancient Western myth of Faustus, Thomas Mann tells us the story of German composer Adrian Leverkuhn, a man obsessed with themes of mathematics, theology and music. Leverkuhn is intent on composing the greatest and most original work of music ever thought of, and so, in a tiny village in Italy, expresses his disposition to sell his soul to the devil in order to achieve that. He gets what he wants, and for a number of years he works at another village, in Germany, until he achieves his dream, at a cost so terrible that in the end you will feel the creeps about it.
Intertwined wiht this story, written during WWII, are reflections of another selling of the soul to the devil, this time not by an ambitious individual but by a tormented people, the Germans, humiliated after WWI and in the midst of utter decadence, economic, political and moral. The devil is personified by a man called Adolf Hitler, who promises the Germans a thousand years of power and richness, if only they will support him in destroying the Western civilization, the Jews and international peace. And price the pay they do, but somehow you can not trust the devil and in the end, after the most gruesome conflagration in history, destruction is all the Germans get.
This is not an easy read. It takes concentration and a willingness to digest deep reflections on the subjects mentioned above, like the relationships between mathematics and music, sexuality and theology, and the reflex of the ancient myth on the lives of Leverkuhn (the prostitution of art) and Nazi Germany (the prostitution of hope). However, it is an exceptional work of art and of modern thought, so it is very rewarding.
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