The Magician: A Novel - book cover
  • Publisher : Scribner
  • Published : 07 Sep 2021
  • Pages : 512
  • ISBN-10 : 1476785082
  • ISBN-13 : 9781476785080
  • Language : English

The Magician: A Novel

Selected as a Notable Book, a Critics' Top Book, and a Top 10 Book of Historical Fiction by The New York Times, and named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, The Washington Post, Vogue, and The Wall Street Journal

From one of today's most brilliant and beloved novelists, a dazzling, epic family saga set across a half-century spanning World War I, the rise of Hitler, World War II, and the Cold War.

Colm Tóibín's magnificent new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles.

In a stunning marriage of research and imagination, Tóibín explores the heart and mind of a writer whose gift is unparalleled and whose life is driven by a need to belong and the anguish of illicit desire. The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived-the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile. This is a man and a family fiercely engaged by the world, profoundly flawed, and unforgettable. As People magazine said about The Master, "It's a delicate, mysterious process, this act of creation, fraught with psychological tension, and Tóibín captures it beautifully."

Editorial Reviews

Praise for The Magician

Named a Best Book of 2021 by The Washington Post, The New York Times,, and Vogue

Named a Most Anticipated Book by The Millions, LitHub, and Time

"A fictional account of the life of Thomas Mann which is frighteningly relevant now as we see fascism make an impossible return. .. a vast, original, emotionally complex novel."
-Peter Carey, author of A Long Way from Home

"Tóibín's novels typically depict an unfinished battle between those who know what they feel and those who don't, between those who have found a taut peace within themselves and those who remain unsettled. His prose relies on economical gestures and moments of listening, and is largely shorn of metaphor and explanation."
-D. T. Max, The New Yorker

"In The Magician, Toibin delves into the layers of the great German novelist's unconscious, inviting us to understand his fraught, monumental, complicated and productive life. It's a work of huge imaginative sympathy…quite thrilling…It takes a writer of Toibin's caliber to understand how the seemingly inconsequential details of life can be transmogrified, turned into art…[the novel's] expansive and subtle rhythms carry the reader forward and backward in time, tracing an epic story of exile and literary grandeur, unpacking a major author's psyche in such a way that the life of the imagination becomes, finally, the real and only tale worth telling."
-Jay Parini, The New York Times Book Review

"Mr. Tóibín wields a dramatically stripped-down prose style, one that emphasizes silence and stillness as much as dialogue and action. Its effect is cumulative, and its epiphanies, when they come, are all the more powerful after so much restraint… What Mr. Tóibín's exquisitely sensitive novel gets right, in a way that biography rarely does, is its acknowledgment of unknowability. Mann was a towering public figure of a kind that seems inconceivable for a writer today…But he was also an infinitely elliptical, elusive, ironic person whose masks only disguised other masks, and he poured those complexities-sexual, emotional, intellectual-into his daily writing sessions in the various home libraries of all his provisional houses in all the stations of his exile… one of the most sublime endings I've come across in a novel in a long time."
-Donna Rifkin, The Wall Street Journal

"An incisive and witty novel that shows what good company the Nobelist and his family might have been… Tóibín seems determined to give the children their due, something their fath...

Readers Top Reviews

Charles PargeterNorm
Many novels about real people - particularly writers - are disappointing. Either they contain unbelievable speculation or read as inadequate biographies. Colm Toibin's 'The Magician' is an exception. His research into Thomas Mann's life is immaculate but he enters into the mind of the writer in the way no biographer could. Toibin expertly choreographs a large cast of characters, all of whom have distinctive personalities and ambitions. The family saga form, along with the theme of conflict between commercialism and art, kept reminding of Thomas Mann's first great novel 'Buddenbrooks'. Which it high praise.
Richard Brown
Having been enthralled by Toibin's earlier novel about Henry James, 'The Master', I had high expectations for this novel. Though I found it absorbing, with many fine passages, I wasn't fired by it: I felt that key episodes were underplayed, that Toibin was too constrained by the biographical sweep of Mann's long life, that he was more interested in historical breadth than psychological depth. One can get all the facts of the life one wants from the many biographies of Mann; what one looks for in a novel are imaginative explorations that fill in the unknowable gaps, particularly the inner life of the subject, his psychology, desires and emotions. Despite over four hundred pages that focus unrelentingly on Mann, situated within his large family, curiously we never really get to know him: that feels like a failure - intimate insights are, after all, the raison d'etre of the hybrid biographical novel. To me, after reading this serious, considered novel, Mann still remains, essentially, a mystery. Perhaps this reflects the nature of the man himself: Mann had perforce to guard his secret homosexual identity, his most intimate desires, from almost everyone, creating a wall about himself: he remains opaque. Henry James was also famously reticent about his gay desires, was a complex and solitary man, yet Toibin was able, triumphantly, to get under his skin: why not Mann? Thus my interest was always tinged with disappointment, especially in the first half, where some episodes were not given their due. For instance, though Mann did not shine at school, by the age of twenty-three he had written a huge classic novel, 'Buddenbrooks': how on earth did one so young and inexperienced do it, I wondered, and how did he regard the enterprise as the pages piled up? We don't learn the answer from this novel, it's dealt with offhandedly in less than four pages. Similarly, Mann is best known - by those who don't read him - for 'Death in Venice', because of Visconti's film; it is so prominent in our understanding of Mann you'd think this would be given prime treatment in the novel. Not so, it's little more than a quick replay of some of the scenes from the film. Yet if you read Gilbert Adair's little book 'The Real Tadzio', which is about the model for the boy, you get a very different story. Wladyslaw Moes was not quite eleven when Mann encountered him on the Lido, and had such a crush on him; in other words not an ephebe, as portrayed in the film, but a pubescent child. Toibin skates over this puzzling episode, leaving it largely untouched. After the novella's publication and success Mann did a lecture tour in which he was quite frank about the book's paedophilic inspiration. Why did Toibin downplay this rich material? Too controversial? It's an example of how Toibin's at times simplified Mann's complex, contradictory nature. He is of cour...
I have long wanted to read the works of Thomas Mann. Perhaps now I shall. This reaches deep into the world of the Mann family and into the psyche of Thomas himself. Toibin has researched, as well as reimagined, a prominent German family that had produced one of the finest writers of that time. The book follows as Mann explores and creates, dreams and loves deeply. Atmospheric, chilling at times - a story of Germany in tumult thru the eyes of Mann.
Blue in Washington (
Interesting fictional biography of Thomas Mann, but at its heart, it's as much about the individual members of Mann's large family as it is about the famed author himself. And when all is said in done, author Colm Toibin seems to saying that most of the Mann clan was more interesting than the novel's principal character. The book takes the reader from Mann's earliest days as a child in Lubeck, Germany to his death in Switzerland some 80 years later. During that period, he wrote constantly, achieving early fame and a Nobel Prize at a relatively early age. He also acquired a wife and six children despite a strong and continuing interest in young males along the way. Author Toibin is a bit coy in the spelling out Mann's acting out on his homosexual impulses, while, ironically other members of the family (including three of his six children) were openly and vigorously gay in their interests and and sexual pursuits. While the novel has some very interesting moments, the author gives us a character who comes across as self-obsessed, often lacking in courage, a terrible judge of politics at a time that his country was in political turmoil, neglectful of his children and pretty dull as a companion in any situation. After reading this lengthy life story, I can't say that I was encouraged to run off and buy any of Mann's books, but that might be preferable to reading this fictional life story of the man.
Angelo Giacalone
How anyone cannot like or enjoy this spectacularly written novel is beyond me. Maybe we live on alternate universes, but I found this work to be so enthralling I read it a second time! I would NEVER have imagined that Mann and his family and the times would be so interesting. What a crew! I always thought my family eccentric but Mann's crew has mine beat. A remarkable work that brought Mann and his family so intimately into my mind and thoughts. Absolutely LOVED this novel!!!!

Short Excerpt Teaser

Chapter 1: Lübeck, 1891 Chapter 1 Lübeck, 1891
His mother waited upstairs while the servants took coats and scarves and hats from the guests. Until everyone had been ushered into the drawing room, Julia Mann remained in her bedroom. Thomas and his older brother Heinrich and their sisters Lula and Carla watched from the first landing. Soon, they knew, their mother would appear. Heinrich had to warn Carla to be quiet or they would be told to go to bed and they would miss the moment. Their baby brother Viktor was sleeping in an upper room.

With her hair pinned back severely and tied in a colored bow, Julia stepped out from her bedroom. Her dress was white, and her black shoes, ordered specially from Majorca, were simple like a dancer's shoes.

She joined the company with an air of reluctance, giving the impression that she had, just now, been alone with herself in a place more interesting than festive Lübeck.

On coming into the drawing room, having glanced around her, Julia would find among the guests one person, usually a man, someone unlikely such as Herr Kellinghusen, who was neither young nor old, or Franz Cadovius, his squint inherited from his mother, or Judge August Leverkühn, with his thin lips and clipped mustache, and this man would become the focus of her attention.

Her allure came from the atmosphere of foreignness and fragility that she exuded with such charm.

Yet there was kindness in her flashing eyes as she asked her guest about work and family and plans for the summer, and, speaking of the summer, she would wish to know about the relative comfort of various hotels in Travemünde, and then she would ask about grand hotels in places as distant as Trouville or Collioure or some resort on the Adriatic.

And soon she would pose an unsettling question. She would ask what her interlocutor thought about some normal and respectable woman within their group of associates. The suggestion was that this woman's private life was a matter of some controversy and speculation among the burghers of the town. Young Frau Stavenhitter, or Frau Mackenthun, or old Fraulein Distelmann. Or someone even more obscure and retiring. And when her bewildered guest would point out that he had nothing other than good to say of the woman, in fact had nothing beyond the very ordinary to transmit, Thomas's mother would express the view that the object of their discussion was, in her considered opinion, a marvelous person, simply delicious, and Lübeck was lucky to have such a woman among its citizens. She would say this as if it were a revelation, something that must stay quite confidential for the moment, something, indeed, that even her husband, the senator, had not yet been told.

The following day, news would spread about their mother's deportment and whom she had singled out for comment, until Heinrich and Thomas would hear about it from their school friends, as if it were a very modern play, fresh from Hamburg, that had been performed.

In the evenings, if the senator were at a meeting, or in the time when Thomas and Heinrich, having done their violin practice and eaten their supper, were in their nightclothes, their mother would tell them about the country of her birth, Brazil, a place so vast, she said, that no one knew how many people were there or what they were like or what languages they spoke, a country many, many times the size of Germany, where there was no winter, and never any frost or real cold, and where one river, the Amazon, was more than ten times longer than the Rhine and ten times as wide, with many smaller rivers flowing into it that reached back deep into the forest, with trees higher than trees anywhere else in the world, with people whom no one had ever seen or would see, since they knew the forest as no one else did, and they could hide if an intruder or an outsider came.

"Tell us about the stars," Heinrich would say.

"Our house in Paraty was on the water," Julia would reply. "It was almost part of the water, like a boat. And when night came and we could see the stars, they were bright and low in the sky. Here in the north the stars are high and distant. In Brazil, they are visible like the sun during the day. They are small suns themselves, glittering and close to us, especially those of us who lived near water. My mother said you could sometimes read a book in the upstairs rooms at night because the light from the stars against the water was so clear. And you could not sleep unless you fastened the shutters to keep the brightness out. When I was a girl, the same age...