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Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as Told by a Friend [Paperback]

Thomas Mann , John E. Woods
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 27 1999 0375701168 978-0375701160 New edition
"John E. Woods is revising our impression of Thomas Mann, masterpiece by masterpiece."  --The New Yorker

"Doctor Faustus is Mann's deepest artistic gesture. . . . Finely translated by John E. Woods." --The New Republic

Thomas Mann's last great novel, first published in 1947 and now newly rendered into English by acclaimed translator John E. Woods, is a modern reworking of the Faust legend, in which Germany sells its soul to the Devil. Mann's protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkühn, is the flower of German culture, a brilliant, isolated, overreaching figure, his radical new music a breakneck game played by art at the very edge of impossibility. In return for twenty-four years of unparalleled musical accomplishment, he bargains away his soul--and the ability to love his fellow man.

Leverkühn's life story is a brilliant allegory of the rise of the Third Reich, of Germany's renunciation of its own humanity and its embrace of ambition and nihilism. It is also Mann's most profound meditation on the German genius--both national and individual--and the terrible responsibilities of the truly great artist.

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From Kirkus Reviews

The modest Thomas Mann boom, begun with the recent publication (by New Directions) of his early stories, continues with this fine new English translation of the author's last great novel, first published in 1948. A work written in old age and suffused with Mann's moral despair over his country's complacent embrace of Nazism, Doctor Faustus unrelentingly details the rise and fall of Adrian Leverkhn, a gifted musician (modeled, as Mann admitted, on modernist innovator Arnold Schoenberg) who effectively sells his soul to the devil for a generation of renown as the greatest living composer. Woods's vigorous translation works brilliantly on two counts: It catches both the logic and the music of Mann's intricate mandarin sentences (if one reads closely, the rewards are great); and it gives the novel's narrator (``Adrian's intimate from his hometown'') a truly distinctive voice, making him more of an involved character than a rhetorical device. Mann's most Dostoevskyan novel should, in this splendid new version, speak more powerfully than ever to contemporary readers. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"John E. Woods is revising our impression of Thomas Mann, masterpiece by masterpiece." The New Yorker "Doctor Faustus is Mann's deepest artistic gesture... Finely translated by John E. Woods." The New Republic "Arguably the great German novel" New York Times "Perhaps not since Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus has a novelist conveyed so tangibly and exaltedly the mechanism and the aesthetic effect in musical performance" New York Times "The real masterpiece" New York Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Major mistakes in the translation May 20 2000
The work itself has been well-reviewed here. But Woods's translation, at least in the hardcover edition, makes some huge mistakes with musical terminology. The worst is the translation of the German pitch "B" as B in English: it should be B-flat, as the German pitch "H" is our B. This makes a world of difference in the discussion of musical passages, and in general one finds that Woods is not the most felicitous translater of musical concepts. It's a shame, because musical concepts are absolutely central to the concerns of the novel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Major Achievement Dec 14 2003
An appropriate axiom drawn from this book - "If you seek to do hard things you'll have it hard."
This book is not an easy read - you'll have it hard - but it's worth the effort. The prose style is complex, perhaps partly due to the long windedness of the German language but also due to Mann's prose style. However, it is enjoyable and pleasantly challenging in its complexity, convoluted in a charming way.
My own knowledge of music theory is really too limited to have gotten much out of the occasional passage regarding the development of music. If you are not "au fait" with counterpoint, polyphony, chords and harmony you will have to drudge through these sections but they are few. Despite not being an aficionado of classical music, I enjoyed the discussion of Beethoven and how not being able to hear was in some way liberating to him as a composer.
I can see parallels between the idea that Leverkuhn is trying to somehow move music forward in an age where it is difficult to avoid being accused of rehashing the old or find something new which is actually worth listening to and Mann's experience as a writer, trying to move the novel forward in a fresh new way. In the same way that Lvekuhn adheres to a rigid system and tries to develop something free and beatiful within the constricts of that system, I wonder if Mann is not also attempting something similar in literature.
I found it interesting to read what is essentially an apology from a German humanist for the terrible deeds of his nation during its Nazi love affair.
I think I will read something lighter to rest my weary brain but I am now a fan of Herr Mann.
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This is considered by some to be Mann's last great work. Great it is, though perhaps not the monumental triumph equal to the Magic Mountain. This novel is a Faustian story--its hero is the German composer Adrian Leverkuhn, a musician who becomes so tormented with his music and so obsessed with creative genius that he makes a pact with the devil and bargains away his soul for twenty-four years of unparalleled musical ability.

As always, Mann's work is full of philosophical and theological debates, and there is also a good deal of musical discussion here as well. Adrian's deal with the dark one is a metaphor for Germany in the period during and between the two great World Wars. Like his homeland, Adrian becomes obsessed with power and glory, and revolutionizes music to such a great extent that the outside world is repulsed by it. In the end, like Germany, his power and glory come to an end, and as Serenus (the narrator of the story) sits writing in the midst of the allied invasion of Germany, Adrian is finally called to pay his debt.

Mann's narrative is always very compelling, and this is no exception. And, as usual, there is much deeper meaning than what is perceived at the surface, and the poignant and important message of the novel is the danger of becoming over-greedy for power, and of falling victim to one's own ambitions (as both Adrian and Germany do). Adrian loses his ability to love, and he can never regain it, not even when he ultimately seeks redemption. This is a great spin on the Faustian concept, and also a very powerful novel about the effects of the German Reich during World Wars 1 and 2.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A dream without a soul is a nightmare March 27 2003
I found "Dr. Faustus" the most challenging of all Mann's novels to read. It is dense with symbolism, history, philosophy and digressions into frank editorializing by the author, who interjects his voice into the story in a disconcerting way.
The philosophical ramblings of "The Magic Mountain" are similar--the Dionysian Weltanschaung of the Jesuit (Naphta) and The Voluptuary (Peeperkorn) versus the Appolonian (Settembrini) are used as metaphors for a debauched and dying Old Europe versus the New Europe to be reborn after the convulsions of World War I. And they are also symbolic of the failure of "pure reason" and politically correct Art to save a society with no soul, where human lives are scored on a worth-scale and have no intrinsic value as endowed by their Creator. In "Dr. Faustus", Mann revisits the German split personality (order versus bloody chaos) and makes it more intimate; he desperately wants to unearth what is it about the German Soul that gave us both World War I and then its offspring World War II and Hitler. Mann spends the rest of the book examining the German soul in the character of Adrian Leverkuehn and the forces influencing his life.
This is a brilliant book in that it takes the favorite Faust theme so loved by the Germans and re-tells it in a compelling fashion. Where the reader will have difficulty is that they will miss many of the character names that are sly jokes (if you are not a German speaker), and in following Mann's dense prose, followed by digressions into his own musings. And then you need to be somewhat familiar with European history and cultural icons.
Leverkuehn sells his soul to the Devil for the ability to compose the world's most perfect musical work.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Hardly bearable
Mann's gorgeous, rich prose cannot save this dull, plodding tale from being an ordeal to read. The same density of language which charms the reader in the beginning becomes an... Read more
Published on April 20 2004 by Peter
5.0 out of 5 stars Really mesmerizing
A theme of good and evil,a tale about a genius who has trouble dealing with himself, a story of love of music and a life of suffering, that glues one to the pages. Incredible.
Published on March 20 2003 by chubchik
5.0 out of 5 stars The soul sold to the devil
In this reenactment of the ancient Western myth of Faustus, Thomas Mann tells us the story of German composer Adrian Leverkuhn, a man obsessed with themes of mathematics, theology... Read more
Published on Nov. 13 2002 by Guillermo Maynez
1.0 out of 5 stars Misconceptions
What moved me to write my 'review' is the disturbing sometimes tone of the other commentaries.
The whole point that makes Thomas Mann writing so interesting, is its honesty... Read more
Published on June 20 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars One of a handful of truly great novels of the 20th century
The German obsession with the legend of Faust is updated richly and memorably in what may well be Thomas Mann's greatest achievement. Read more
Published on May 10 2001 by David Scott Goen
5.0 out of 5 stars The genius and satanic abyss of the mind
Study the mind of a genius and the soul of a mad man. Witness the depths of depression and heights of creation with demonic infection. Read more
Published on March 13 2000 by Eilif A. Heyerdahl
5.0 out of 5 stars Thomas Mann at his tragic best!
For those of you who have not done so already, I would highly recommend reading Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Faust" before... Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2000 by D. Roberts
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