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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

The Sunday Times top 10 best seller

Winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize 2022

Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2022

From one of our greatest living writers comes a sweeping novel of unrequited love and exile, war and family.

The Magician tells the story of Thomas Mann, whose life was filled with great acclaim and contradiction. He would find himself on the wrong side of history in the First World War, cheerleading the German army, but have a clear vision of the future in the second, anticipating the horrors of Nazism. He would have six children and keep his homosexuality hidden; he was a man forever connected to his family and yet bore witness to the ravages of suicide. He would write some of the greatest works of European literature and win the Nobel Prize, but would never return to the country that inspired his creativity.

Through one life, Colm Toibin tells the breath-taking story of the 20th century.

©2021 Colm Tóibín (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"As with everything Colm Tóibín sets his masterful hand to, The Magician is a great imaginative achievement—immensely readable, erudite, worldly and knowing, and fully realized." (Richard Ford)

"No living novelist dramatizes artistic creation as profoundly, as luminously, as Colm Tóibín...reading him is among the deepest pleasures our literature can offer." (Garth Greenwell) 

"This is not just a whole life in a novel, it's a whole world." (Katharina Volckmer) 

What listeners say about The Magician

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

I’m finding it difficult to stick with this ….

Two hours into listening and I’m disappointed and frustrated. I am not sure who this book is intended for. Or why it has been written at all. It is boring/pedestrian which itself is quite astonishing given the subject matter.

I’m finding that Toibin’s Thomas Mann is a thin, insubstantial figure whose most notable characteristic is his sexuality. For me there is little sense of Mann as a strangely remarkable writer. In fact it seems that his writing is the least important thing about him, according to Toibin. Mmmm… for me, that is a puzzle. Is this the message of the book somehow?

I recognise that some readers will find enjoyable/interesting the laboured descriptions of episodes in Mann’s life that later make appearances in the novels. I find these simply irritating. I don’t care whether Mann really did keep pencil shaving in his pencil case or not. And we get lots more like this. I’m unsure whether these are imagined or the results of research. I find I don’t care much for them either way.

I am going to listen to the end if I can….. that’s going to be a long journey. I hope it gets a bit better.

Finally finished. Beyond the repeated forays into Mann’s sexuality (which itself seems pretty common place in the main) and the many comings and goings of domestic life (again fairly common place), we learn nothing much of what Mann thought, wrote or said. He was against Hitler. His children were unhappy that he spent so much time on his work. He lived through two world wars. He found good looking young men attractive. This doesn’t get us very far, I think.

The writing is proficient. The treatment of time is odd. Things happed just like that. Mann writes his first masterpiece. There is a war, then another war. Hitler dies. Mann dies.

6 people found this helpful

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A brilliant account of how it may have been

this book gripped me and angered me in equal measures.
A gripping family saga, it is a fictionalised account of Mann's life but based on his diaries and Toibin's thorough research. What angered me so much is the arrogance and entitlement of Mann and his family, especially his wife. Those were the people who were living in nonchalant luxury while the German masses couldn't buy a loaf of bread after WW1. For all their opposition to the Nazis, they bear responsibility for the Nazis coming to power.

It made me furious how brutally Erika and Katia judge those who remained in Germany and didn't fight the Nazis hard enough while they are enjoying the Californian sun and living like God in France. At some point Thomas says " I would be dead had I stayed in Germany". The same is true for those who did stay had they opposed the regime.

Their rudeness and arrogance towards Heinrich, who was a proper opponent of the Nazis, and his wife Nellie, who Katia referred to only as "das Stück" (Short for piece of dirt). Mann sitting on his high, non-committal horse all his life... Klaus and Erika, never doing a day of honest work in their lives but feeling entitled and opinionated nevertheless.

Katia's cruelty and indifference towards her children, except sometimes Klaus. Leaving them behind as babies and toddlers for months. No wonder they were all so messed up. Whatever respect I might have had for this family of one of the most prominent German writers ever has gone.

Brilliant work by Toibin.
The narrator was ok but as so often, it would have been helpful (and respectful) to figure out how to pronounce the Germans names and locations correctly.

4 people found this helpful

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Cometh the Mann

For anyone who has read all of Mann’s books this is an essential read. If you haven’t read his major works, be advised that spoilers run throughout. I loved this book. It has everything I love about literature and music. Yes the chapters are full of Mahler and Beethoven and I felt that Toibin was singing the book to me, helped on by the great deliberation by Gunnar Cauthery. However, there was one section which alluded to Mann’s observation to one of his sons that didn’t sit right with me. But that is just the view of an ageing heterosexual which might not be an issue with more modern readers. All in all I would give it 9.9/10 and will buy the hard copy when it comes out in paperback.

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent in all respects

Great biography. A most interesting life, impeccably written. The narrator was superb and extremely engaging. Highly recommended

1 person found this helpful

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A rather snobbish perception of Thomas Mann

I personally couldn't quite consume the snobbery and lack of character in this attempt to put Thomas Mann's life into this particular novel. The story lacks inner perspective and doesn't seem like it's well researched for this purpose. Well, it might be factual enough, but it's static, cold and missing an actual touch of life itself. I hope Thomas himself wasn't this dull...

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ama,ing life of Thomas Mann

I knew little of Mann before listening to this. I am so grateful to have shared his life

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Insufferable!

I really wanted to like this book but I give up! The characters are all completely unlikeable, self obsessed, pompous, miserable. The story of a sluggish. The reader is not great - perhaps an uphill battle with the story but read the in a very hammy way, doesn’t help the situation. Can’t understand the positive reception. Must be missing something but just can’t carry on…

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remarkable

Absolutely fascinating description of Thomas Mann's life, family, and German society, and an insight into his secret sexual longings. Most interesting for me were his interactions with his children and with America, which first embraced then spurned him

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A very vivid story of Mann's life.

it drives you to want to read more of his novels. a very enjoyable read

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  • Viktors
  • 21-05-22

Author of interesting and compelling books made into a compelling character

This has been a great audio book. Excellent plot, narrative and excellent reading. Thomas Mann is drawn as an ambiguous, contradictory, humane person that can be liked and disliked depending on one’s attitude to life and others. What makes, can make, one happy or unhappy, actually, or presumably, lucky or unlucky? One of the questions the book made me think about. Thank you