Mario and the Magician – Thomas Mann (1929)

by Chingiz Ismailov

An unusual little work of literature; I can say certainly I have never read anything quite like it.

Again: many apologies (if anyone is even following this) for not having written again in months. Since that time, I have come down with a mild obsession with Thomas Mann. Beginning with Buddenbrooks (1901) which I didn’t finish because I was looking for something a little intellectually meatier, I began reading The Magic MountainA magnificent work – art in the truest sense – it manages to reconcile Modernism and Realism with what is clearly the sheer but gentle power of a mind that’s like a blast furnace of intellect and a sweet, flowery meadow at the same time.

Before starting on my next Mann selection (Joseph and his Brothers), I read two works by the great, but not hugely well known author and philosopher (mystic?) Dmitry Merezhkovsky (alt. sp. Merejcovsky) who was quite an influence on Mann, particularly as he was writing Joseph. I recommend him too, and perhaps I’ll write a short review on the two-thirds of his Christ-Anti-Christ trilogy that I managed to find in English.

Mario and the Magician is another book, or rather a long short story that manages to alloy the grotesque with what starts as a simple story of a family holiday: the narrator (presumably Mann, but let’s not make assumptions) is on a holiday in an Italian resort on the Riviera. The holiday is unpleasant, and the locals inhospitable. Towards the end, Narrator and his wife decide to take their young children – after their persistent nagging – to see a magic show by a well-known stage magician, the conjurer Cipolla. The evening is long, uncomfortable, unsettling, and ends in murder.

Well known for being an attack on fascism, Mann again manages to craft something incisive and insightful; a very intelligent if (in the author’s own opinion) unsubtle piece of work. The only thing that I could think to say against this wonderful little piece is the one thing that I can say against all his work: it appeals almost wholly to the mind, the intellect. That’s not to say they are dry and inhuman – far from it – but be prepared to dust off your brain. As a short work, it’s quite long, as much of Mann’s writing is, but an excellent introduction to his style.

If more people read Thomas Mann today, the world would be significantly more understanding and fit for human life.

“Yes we assured them, that was the end. An end of horror, a fatal end. And yet a liberation – for I could not, and I cannot, but find it so.”