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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Family History and Cultural Commentary Intertwined, 14 Jun 2011
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a review of the original 2001 edition. I read this 105-page and well-illustrated book in one session. Being a fan of Thomas Mann, Luchino Visconti, and Benjamin Britten, I was bound to find Gilbert Adair's subject of great interest. But then, I am also a fan of Mr Adair too, having read his own novel's take on `Death in Venice' (`Love and Death on Long Island') and enjoyed his screenplay for Bernardo Bertolucci's `The Dreamers'.

In this extended essay, Adair first appraises us with the autobiographical nature of Thomas Mann's story, as well as highlighting the differences too. But, whereas Mann never troubled "to ascertain who precisely was the little Polish boy on the beach of the Lido or what might have become of him," Adair has done some marvellous detective work. Adair cautions that, "What follows, however, is not a biography; it might more accurately be viewed as an extended, belated specimen of the biography's less garrulous cousin, the obituary." Or rather, obituaries, for Adair also traces the life of the boy's friend and compatriot on that fateful beach in Venice in the summer of 1911. He has managed to track down and interview descendants of both boys, Wladyslaw Moes and Jas Fudakowski. Being Polish, their remaining lives were not without incident and were as turbulent at times as their own country's.

There is much insightful commentary too by Adair on the film by Visconti and (less so) the opera by Britten. Adair perceptively notes that, "The miracle of Visconti's film version was the casting of [Bjorn] Andresen. Had he been less beautiful, the film would have been less good. It really is as elementary as that." In the book's final moments, Adair compares Thomas Mann with other noted twentieth-century gay and bisexual authors, and concludes that Mann has no equal.

The photographs include extracts from the family albums, but alas some of these are not as clear as one would have wished. This is the only quibble I have with this book, which is otherwise an engrossing family history and a perceptive cultural commentary rolled into one.
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The Real Tadzio: Thomas Mann's Death in Venice and the Boy Who Inspired it
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