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Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as Told by a Friend (The New John Woods Translation) (Vintage International) [Paperback]

Thomas Mann , John E. Woods
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Feb 2000 Vintage International
"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

Thomas Mann's last great novel, first published in 1947 and now newly rendered into English by acclaimed translator John E. Woods, is a modern reworking of the Faust legend, in which Germany sells its soul to the Devil. Mann's protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkühn, is the flower of German culture, a brilliant, isolated, overreaching figure, his radical new music a breakneck game played by art at the very edge of impossibility. In return for twenty-four years of unparalleled musical accomplishment, he bargains away his soul--and the ability to love his fellow man.

Leverkühn's life story is a brilliant allegory of the rise of the Third Reich, of Germany's renunciation of its own humanity and its embrace of ambition and nihilism. It is also Mann's most profound meditation on the German genius--both national and individual--and the terrible responsibilities of the truly great artist.

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Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as Told by a Friend (The New John Woods Translation) (Vintage International) + The Magic Mountain + Death In Venice And Other Stories (Vintage Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 538 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; New edition edition (1 Feb 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701160
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.4 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 348,803 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) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

A masterpiece of German modernism and one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The demonic forces in the human psyche 19 Nov 2006
By Sena
Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann is a challenging work, monumental in conception. Many of its 525 pages are not easy to read, especially the ones dealing with the theory and history of music to those not familiar with this subject. The discussion of modern and classical music is inevitable as Adrian Leverkuhn, the main character in the book, is said to be a great composer.

This novel is said to an "allegory of the rise and fall of the Third Reich", but what does that actually mean? The way I understand it is that Mann asks himself the question, how is it that the nation which produced the sublime music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven also produced Hitler and the horrors of the Holocaust? His novel is an artistic attempt at finding an answer to this question. For this purpose, Mann makes use of the legend and myth of Faustus, the man who is said to have sold his soul to the Devil -Precarious territory to negotiate in an age when those of intellectual standing don't believe in the Devil. In Mann's balancing act he makes use of his narrator, Serenus Zeitblom, a close friend of Adrian. Zeitblom was born a Roman Catholic, but now considers himself a Humanist, whereas Adrian is born to a Lutheran family.

According to Zeitblom's account, Adrian firmly believes that he has sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for the ability to compose great music. It is worth quoting Adrian's own words here: "It is an age when no work is to be done in pious sober fashion and by proper means, and art has grown impossible sans the Devil's aid and hellish fire beneath the kettle......art is stuck fast and grown too difficult and mocks its very self, that all has grown too difficult...
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfection of form 24 July 2003
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I don't find Thomas Mann's books, such as Doctor Faustus at all easy to read. They are both long and highly complex, written not as a novel as such but to transmit a message, in this case, the similarities between the Faustus legend and the rise of Nazi Germany. However, I have been fortunate to read both this book and another major work of Mann, The Magic Mountain, in new translations by John E Woods which bring a clear and smooth passage through these undoubtedly great works of literature.

Dr Faustus is on the face of it, a fictional biography of Adrian Leverkuhn, a brilliant composer who came to fame in the 1920s and 30s. The biography is recorded by his life-long friend Dr Serenus Leitblom, who happens to have possession of Leverkuhn's journals including a secret manuscript, which comes to light about half way through the book, which gives an account of the terrible evening when Leverkuhn entered into a pact with the devil, to exchange his soul for 24 years of brilliant musical composition.

Dr Leitblom has a hard time of it with Adrian Leverkuhn, the friendship never achieving an easy intimacy, and several times there are references to Leverkuhn's refusal to use the personal pronoun with even his closest associates. He is unapproachable and isolated, and takes private rooms in a farmhouse, some distance from Munich. His almost hermit-like existence is relieved by train journeys into the city where he takes part in musical and philosophical soirees, described in some detail by Mann and showing his command of the most complex musical ideas.

Leverkuhn's music is rarely well-received, being appreciated by only a select band of critics, the message being that it is too rarified for the common concert-goer, but will eventually be vindicated by generations to come.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deep but very readable. 17 May 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed reading this book slowly from cover to cover. It can be enjoyed on many levels which makes it accessible for readers of many different backgrounds. I enjoyed it first as a very convincing fictional biography of an early-twentieth century German composer. I later discovered the book's potential to be read as an allegory for Germany's shift to Nazism.

I think the beauty of the writing lies in the way in which Thomas Mann chooses to convey deep psychological truth not through long impenetrable sentences filled with complex vocabulary but with telling descriptions of the nuances in his characters' appearance and physical mannerisms. I find this more 'everyday' language far more enjoyable to read and, for the most part, more effective in conveying meaning.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about German history, German music or anyone who simply wants to be told a good story in sophisticated but not stifling language.
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