Written between 1912 and 1924, this doorstop of a novel by the German author Thomas Mann is considered to be one of the most influential works of 20th century German literature. It is, among other things, an examination of European bourgeois society, and personal attitudes to life, health, illness, sexuality and mortality.
Doesn’t that sound erudite? Stole it from Wikipedia. What the book is, my Darling Readers, is a whole lotta yada yada.
The basic story stars Hans Castorp, a young shipbuilding engineer who travels to the high mountains in Germany to visit his cousin, Joachim, who is at a sanitarium trying to cure his tuberculosis. Hans is there for only a few weeks, but has never acclimated to the altitude or the cold climate, and experiences a continual burning of his face. Right before leaving, he allows the sanitarium doctor to examine him, when they find he, too, has tuberculosis, and recommend he stay a while just to get it cleared up.
The story is set in the period before the First World War, and you will recall that antibiotics were not developed until the late 1920s, so basically the only cure for tuberculosis was a rest cure, usually in the clear, clean air of the mountains.
His stay there becomes a vehicle to meet other patients, a surprising number of which turn out to be philosophically-minded, including the doctors, and the book uses all this to examine all kinds of topics, from illness
Do not, for heaven’s sake, speak to me of the ennobling effects of physical suffering!
A human being who is first of all an invalid is all body; therein lies his inhumanity.
If she was ill — and that she was, probably incurably, since she had been up here so often and so long — her illness was in good part, if not entirely, a moral one: as Settembrini had said, neither the ground nor the consequence of her ‘slackness’ but precisely one and the same thing.
And an ongoing look at Time:
All the days are nothing but the same day repeating itself — or rather, since it is always the same day, it is incorrect to speak of repetition; a continuous present, an identity, an everlastingness — such words as these would better convey the idea.
And we have strange discussions of concepts like paradox:
Paradox is the poisonous flower of quietism, the iridescent surface of the rotting mind, the greatest depravity of all!
There are discussions and ruminations on love, on politics, Truth, art and life’s purpose.
Castorp’s departure from the sanatorium is repeatedly delayed by his failing health. He remains in the morbid atmosphere of the sanatorium for seven years. At the conclusion of the novel, the war begins, and he volunteers for the military, and we see his possible, or probable, demise upon the battlefield.
It is very very long book, and my interest, to be frank, began to wane about halfway through it. I can take just so much opining through the mouths of literary characters. You know me — I am all about the story. So here’s the story: Hans visits his cousin in a tuberculosis sanitarium, is found to have tuberculosis himself and stays, has a lot of boring conversations to pass the time, imagines himself in love with one of the patients for a while, then she leaves, he continues having boring conversations to pass the time, then after 7 years, WWI starts, and he leaves the institution to join the military. The end.