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on 20 June 2013
One of the great European writers of the twentieth century, Thomas Mann is one of those figures who still looms large over literature. 'Death in Venice' is (rightly) regarded as one of his finest works, forming an appropriate ending to this collection, but many of the other stories in this volume are also excellent and everything here is worthy of any thoughtful reader's time.

Aside from collecting so many of Mann's finest early works, this collection is worth commending for its excellent introduction, which does much to illuminate Mann's life and work and the cultural context which gave birth to his extraordinary writing. Not knowing what to expect, I delved into the introduction first and already found that a certain sadness pervaded my view of Mann, merely from the biographical aspects of it. This became very potent as I read through the stories, and it was hard not to make comparisons between the life described in the introduction and the lives we glimpse in the stories.

Many of the stories in this collection form variations on a similar theme: that of young men who waste their lives only to come to their senses all too late. Naturally, this makes it a rather melancholic read at times but the death (or non-birth) of youth is a fascinating theme. Although this may make some of the works seem like templates, this is definitely not the case - Mann's real skill is his gift for relating the high emotions of his characters, even when they are not obvious to those around them. Because of this, the reader has to approach them with empathy; although Mann's writing is not as formally inventive as some of his contemporaries, perhaps the 'difficulty' of his work lies in its emotional nuances. Fortunately, he shares the empathy of the reader in bringing his characters to life.

No matter how good the likes of 'Little Herr Friedemann' are, the two best works come last. 'Tonio Kroeger' is the archetypal kunstlerroman (novel of artistic development). This novella forms something of an analogue for Mann's own development as a writer, setting up sublimation as a key aspect of Mann's writing. The idea of sublimation becomes even more important in 'Death in Venice' itself. Deservedly regarded as a literary classic, the final part of this collection forms one of Mann's greatest achievements. Amidst a world of decay, Gustav von Aschenbach goes on holiday to Venice only to develop an obsessive infatuation with Tadzio, a young Polish boy staying in the same hotel. The protagonist's obsession is so great that even a cholera outbreak is not enough to drive him away from the object of his desire as he becomes increasingly in thrall to his infatuation and loses touch with everything else. In spite of the obvious sadness of von Aschenbach, the experience creates something of an artistic awakening in him, giving us a glimpse of the strange genesis of artistic inspiration.
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on 9 March 2010
Wonderful short stories by Mann. Though he did not consider himself to be a good short-story teller, here he proves how wrong he was. He gives his short stories the breath and width of epic stories. Of course, `Death in Venice' is special. So beautiful, so engaging, so tragic, so mysteriously absorbing and wistful. Its being short is part of its spell: it comes; it conquers; it leaves. More important: it remains. It becomes like a ghost that haunts the mind and heart for ever. Once you read this story, it stays with you. It is more of an experience than a good read. Moving through it, I couldn't but envy readers who can read it in the original.
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on 6 February 2009
Death in Venice is an exquisite story; every word is carefully selected, every sentence is rich with meaning.
I studied this novella as part of a literature qualification, but it immediately became the best thing I have ever read; I can't recommend it enough. Thomas Mann's writing is poignant and absolutely stunning. If you have any preconceptions about the nature of the story, dismiss them, and read it anyway - it is definitely, as a previous review says, a masterpiece!
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on 5 June 2011
Mann's classic 1912 novella, translated by David Luke, is accompanied by six of Mann's short stories. The novella deals with a man's struggle between leading a life of reason and leading a life ruled by emotions. Aschenbach is a successful but ageing writer who visits Venice where he meets a very attractive young boy staying at the same hotel. His passion for the boy conflicts with his desire to govern his life on a rational basis. It is one of Mann's most accomplished works.
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on 31 July 2014
I'm glad that I chose to read all of this collection because it certainly shows Mann's growth as a writer, but also chronicles how he revisits concepts and improves on them each time, or approaches the subject in an entirely different way. Nearly all stories included an intellectual, often a writer, and his struggles with the feeling of being an outsider, and yet each story was fresh and new and took on a different approach - many times showing the growth in Mann's maturity as a person and a writer.

The introduction is well worth a read, though I would recommend reading it after you have read the novellas. It gives a great background to Germany and the literary scene at the time of these novellas, as well as Mann's life and how this influenced his work, particularly referencing his inspiration from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Wagner, and his interest in nihilism and naturalism. I will say, however, that if you haven't read Buddenbrooks then elements are revealed in the introduction which may spoil it for you..

I would definitely recommend this! Very interesting and thought-provoking. I found the Germanic literary style difficult at times - the vocabulary! Amazing! But, nevertheless, this was brilliant,and it is understandable that Mann's literary talents were recognized with a Nobel Prize.

I will definitely be picking up another Thomas Mann book in the future..
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 January 2013
This has almost become 'the book of the film', so famous is Visconti's 1970s masterpiece, but of course Thomas Mann's tightly-packed short novel precedes that film by 60 years or so. But there are significant differences. Visconti turned the main character, Aschenbach, into a composer, enabling him to use Mahler's wonderfully effective music, whereas in the book he is a much admired (and indeed ennobled) novelist. The composer's nightmare concerns the rejection of his music, whereas in the book Aschenbach's nightmare is a strange, bacchanalian orgy at his mountain retreat near Munich, with 'the stranger god' and the beautiful boy somehow involved. In one of the more difficult parts of the book, Thomas Mann explores the creative career and development of Aschenbach the writer, and his peception of the beauty of the boy, Tadzio, is paralleled by his quest for beauty in his writing, which is really the raison d'etre of his work ; that is not in the film. There are significant classical references, particularly to the Socratic dialogue Phaedrus, part of which is about the nature of beauty and how we can approach it and understand it (there is a lengthy quotation from the dialogue just before the book ends). The book also has a strong and very vivid visual aspect, as of course does the film - Mann is wonderful in his descriptions of Venice in 1910 and of some of the people who appear - the ingratiating ship's captain who sells Aschenbach his ticket to Venice, the grotesque and disgusting young-old man who accompanies the clerks from Pola (and whom Aschenbach distressingly begins to resemble as the book approaches its conclusion), the sinister unlicensed gondolier who ferries Aschenbach to the Lido against his wishes and the knowing troubadour who sings to the hotel guests, forcing them to laugh complicitly with him. The theme of superfical beauty disguising underlying corruption is present almost throughout, and Venice, the faded queen of the Mediterranean, with its astonishing light, its buildings and its piazzas but also its fetid waters, its over-powering heat and sudden, nauseous smells is a symbol of this theme. It's a book about obsession and infatuation - Aschenbach and Tadzio - but also about the approach of death and the dangerous nature of beauty. It packs an astonishing amount into its very short length, is totally invloving (though strange and obscure on occasions) and, deservedly, ranks as a classic.
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on 7 October 2013
Extraordinary perception, use of precise and few words makes one assume this is as close as one can get to Mann and his ideas on beauty and death
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on 17 February 2013
I bought this as I study English Literature at uni and was really very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it! Before I read it I had heard a lot about it as it is apparently a 'must study'. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the book and I find it really captures the sense of movement into modernity. Initially I thought the story would be as disturbing as Nabokov's 'Lolita' but it is really nothing like that; Mann manages to portray homosexual love for a child very differently from someone like Nabokov.
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on 31 July 2014
(Only Death in Venice reviewed here)

Absolutely masterful in its depiction of developing and conflicting emotions, this novella about a restrained and disciplined writer's loss of his dignity and life through Dionysian surrender to his hopeless passion for a beautiful boy, is the best story of its length that I know. It is an extraordinary tribute to its brilliance that its acclaim has survived the vilification for which the pederastic yearnings so vividly described are singled out today. So much has already been written about Death in Venice that I can most fruitfully contribute by concentrating on this aspect of it, which I have already studied broadly for my own novel about a boy the same age.

There appears to be a minority of readers who seek to escape the demand to hate that Aschenbach's passion is today expected to arouse by denying its erotic nature. This denial should be challenged even though it is not essential to appreciation of the story-telling, the agonised feelings of unrequited love being so finely drawn they should easily be felt by those left stone cold by Aschenbach's vision of perfect beauty as a 14-year-old boy. Besides the intense understanding shown of Tadzio's allure, while writing the story, Mann described it in a letter to Philipp Witkop as "dealing with a case of 'Knabenliebe' [boy love] in an aging artist." Then there is the comparison of Aschenbach's love to that of the god Zephyr for the boy Hyacinthus and, most explicit of all, this: "Never had he [Aschenbach] known so well that Eros is in the word, as in those perilous and precious hours when he ... fashioned his little essay after the model Tadzio's beauty set."

One key to the endurance of the story's high reputation is that it was established long before pederasty or love of adolescent boys became so badly misunderstood. I doubt many publishers would dare take it up today. Some people now seem to assume it would have been thought more shocking in 1911 just because all homosexuality was then illegal in many northern countries. Though explicit writing about any sex was taboo, there was relatively speaking far less intolerance of the specific phenomenon of pederasty, which was ubiquitous and legal in much of the world, Italy being best known for this within Europe. Hence the contemporary resonance of the setting. This was the Venice of the so-called Baron Corvo then busy introducing his English fellow-countrymen to willing local boys, of Lord Beauchamp, the real-life homosexual model for Brideshead Revisited's Lord Marchmain, and a host of other sexual refugees from colder climes where pederasty was persecuted as a form of homosexuality (though not singled out for special opprobrium).

As many appear still to be unaware of it, it may be interesting to mention that Death in Venice, was almost autobiographical. Having already decided to write a story about a great writer who succumbs to passion for a youngster and to base the writer physically on the recently deceased composer Mahler, the rest of the story fell into place in detail when Mann arrived in Venice and promptly fell in love with a boy; in his own words, "nothing was invented." Gilbert Adair wrote a book on this called The Real Tadzio, exploring also the life of Wladyslaw Moes, who claimed to be the real boy (which I doubt for reasons I have explained in a review of it).

Perhaps though one should not need to point out that real-life experience of passion for a boy underlies the story. Is it not evident from the superbly playful passage where Mann, commenting as narrator on eros for Tadzio as Aschenbach's inspiration, mocks to death his own recommendation of literary discretion?: "It is just as well that the world knows only a fine piece of work and not also its origins, the conditions under which it came into being; for knowledge of the sources of an artist's inspiration would often confuse readers and shock them, and the excellence of the writing would be of no avail." Through the enduring appeal of his novella in a society as unsympathetic as imaginable, Mann seems to have achieved the impossible feat of having his cake and eating it. For that above all, I take my hat off to him.

Edmund Marlowe, author of Alexander's Choice, a novel of similar but requited passion,
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on 4 August 2015
This has to be the finest English language translation yet of this classic. Highly recommended.
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