Cover Image: The Magician

The Magician

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Member Reviews

I thought this novel was extremely well written, however, for whatever reason, I could not get into it.
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4.25. Colm Toibin is a favorite writer of mine. I loved The Master, Brooklyn, The Testament of Mary, and Nora Webster, to name a few.  His prose is always lovely and concise.  His newest novel, The Magician, is labeled a historical fiction about Thomas Mann, the author.  However, the novel read more to me like a nonfiction biography, yet the prose was beautiful.  I did not know much about Thomas Mann or his novels before, but Toibin crafted a masterful account of his life and career. Mann, a German, was very impacted by the two World Wars, and it's impact on the Germany he knew from birth, it's culture, and the world.  Mann, indeed was a complicated individual with a similarly unusual family.  An excellent read.  I received an advance copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased and honest review.
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A absolutely lovely book. 

A fictional account of the life of Thomas Mann, this book explores creative genius, the impulses that haunt and drive us, and what it means to search for beauty in art. Simply my favorite book so far in 2021.
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Toibin fans won't be disappointed by this, particularly if they enjoyed The Master. As always the writing is stand out even if parts of the story are lacking; this doesn't seem to shine some new light on a well known figure with some well known predilections who had made quite a mark on literary history. Id be curious to know why Mann was the chosen subject.
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Readers who admire Buddenbrooks, Death in Venice, and The Magic Mountain will be enthralled by the way Colm Toibin imagines the way they came into being in The Magician. A fascinating mixture, the novel intertwines the facts of the historical Thomas Mann’s life and times with the thoughts, feelings, and desires of his fictionalized main character. The whole seems so believable that the reader is lured into forgetting that The Magician is not an autobiography but an account by a talented novelist who inhabits his character so completely that it is hard to tell where fact ends and fiction begins. Mann’s complicated family milieu and the era’s political realities are brought to such vivid life and presented with so much detail that one marvels at the amount of research Toibin must have done. Unlike The Master, Toibin’s novel about Henry James which concentrates on a discrete period of time, The Magician gives us Thomas Mann’s entire life so that we feel we know the man from the inside out. One wonders which novelist or other historical figure will be next on Toibin’s creative agenda and anticipates the answer with impatience.
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I was unable to finish this book. I read about 20% and it was tedious, and slow. I liked the characters introduced, but I just could not get into it.
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In 2028, Colm Toibin wrote a piece for the London Review of Books about the Mann family called "I Could Sleep With All of Them." "The Magician" would seem to be the fictional result of that article, except that is written in a stiff biographical style, and the characters do not come off as people you probably would  want to sleep with. The end of the novel breaks through some of that with us finally experiencing Mann's inner life, the depth and richness of which made him such a beloved novelist.

Early in "The Magician" Mann wonders if his father's marriage to a German/Brazilian woman was the beginning of his family's decline. That decline was the loss of influence and money, but the mental illness, incest, and deeply closeted homosexuality had to have been in play long before that marriage took place. Mann was gay but married and fathered six children. The family fled Germany for the US in 1933, and ended up fleeing HUAC to go to Switzerland. Mann believed that his status as "the most famous German in America after Einstein" as an FBI agent puts it will keep him out of the clutches of the anti-Communist crusade. But as with the Nazis in Germany, he couldn't protect those close to him --his brother, his wife, and his children. 

Although his kids call him the Magician for his ability to come up with imaginative scenarios for fun, we don't get to see much of that side. The novel's ending is powerful , but I wish the rest of the family's story had been told with more gusto.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me access to this title in exchange for an honest review.

~~Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader
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I've enjoyed Colm Toibin in the past, but I really struggled through this one. It was quite similar to watching a biopic - the rhythm of someone's life is not necessary what makes a good plot arc. While I enjoyed the characterization, it was hard to keep going.
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This was a really well written book and I can definitely see the potential, however this book just wasn’t for me......
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This book was received as an ARC from Scribner in exchange for an honest review.  Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own.

I have read so many historical fiction novels on Nazi Germany that every time I read one, it’s just another point of view from the same historical event.  Not this time. This book had a unique story with a unique journey unlike anything I’ve read before in this genre. Thomas had a family and found a rich Jewish family to marry into then after his daughter and son form an anti-Nazi group he fled to Switzerland and eventually to America all by the desire for a better life and the passion and determination that got him there rather than suffering the beating of the Nazis and Hitler. When you have passion in life you have strength and it drives you towards your goals and this book clearly demonstrates that. I can definitely see patrons loving this story and I hope it gives them hope for a better future.

We will consider adding this title to our Historical Fiction collection at our library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.
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Although I have read several of Mann's works, it was decades ago and my memory of them is not sharp.  I chose The Magician, thinking of gaining some insight into what made Mann's work important when set against life in Germany during a most turbulent time in its history.  I must admit that although I usually like the works of Colm Tóibín, this one never really left the ground for me.  There are some lovely moments of sensuality, but novelizations of actual lives have never been a favorite genre of mine (I remember throwing a book about Josephine and Napoleon across the room when I was 15).  After reading the works of Hans Fallada and Irene Nemerovsky, which novelized their lives during the same period, reading fictionalized bios only made me impatient for the actual experience.  Knowing that this is a fault of mine and not necessarily the author, I give up on this genre.
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I really, truly wanted to love this novel. Knowing nothing about Thomas Mann, I thought this would be an in depth character study of who the man might have been and what he had been thinking, feeling, writing throughout his life. This reads, instead like a historical fiction novel focused on notating major events in Thomas Mann's life without the deeper exploration that I was seeking. For example, we don't read about Mann's creative, emotional, professional journey to winning the Nobel prize, only that he is now a Nobel Laureate author. That bothered me a little bit. Also there was such a heavy focus on his siblings that it detracted from any emotional attachment I had to Thomas Mann, himself. Overall, it's an okay read but I would really only recommend it to lovers of historical fiction. It's very biographical and not as much literary fiction as I expected. A good but sprawling fictional biography of Thomas Mann.

Thank you to Scribner and Netgalley for providing a digital arc in exchange for an honest review.
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I wanted so much to love this book because the writing is excellent but for me the characters were not well defined as they progressed.  In other words I initially found the family intriguing but there were too many big gaps of time where people grew and changed but there just wasn’t enough to help the reader move forward with them.  Even the main character Thomas Mann jumped from unknown writer to Nobel Prize winner in the blink of an eye.  Maybe in the big picture the years and events that were left out were inconsequential but still left me feeling as though I got lost along the way.

I skimmed through the last quarter of the book.  While this is well written and certainly will be enjoyed by many readers, it just wasn’t for me.  I appreciate the opportunity to access the ARC of this book.
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Thomas Mann’s kids called him “the magician” because of his uncanny ability to deflect and create illusion through his exceptional art. In his fictional biography, Colm Tóibín imagines what may have been going on behind the scenes in Mann’s magic show. To that end, he gives us an intimate portrait of this complex literary figure. Despite obtaining considerable notoriety and influence, Mann was able to remain aloof and opaque throughout his life.

Tóibín suggests that Mann was obsessed with beauty, both physical and musical. While aspiring to express these feelings in prose, he struggled to conceal his homoerotic fantasies. As a young man living in turn-of-the-century Lübeck, Mann was heir to one of Germany’s elite Hanseatic merchant fortunes. Yet he concealed from his domineering father a lack of interest in business in favor of artistic pursuits. Following his father’s untimely death and the liquidation of his business, Mann’s mother moved the family to Munich where Thomas accomplished two of his most important achievements—he became a serious writer and married Katia. 

As a member of the wealthy Pringsheim industrial family, Katia, along with her twin brother Klaus, had considerable prominence in Munich. Tóibín portrays Katia most favorably as a strong, independent and supportive wife and mother. Despite never explicitly acknowledging Thomas’ homosexual desires, their separate sleeping arrangements, mutual attraction to Klaus, and her protection of his privacy throughout does suggest a tacit acceptance. 

Tóibín devotes much of the novel to how the family coped with the wartime political unrest in Europe, their flight to America, their ultimate return to Europe (but never to Germany) and his relationships to his fascinating family. Remarkably, he gives scant attention to Mann’s prodigious oeuvre. However, Tóibín does emphasize Mann’s uncommon devotion to his writing craft, even at the expense of familial estrangement. His three most prominent novels appear only as vignettes where Tóibín imagines how Mann may have conceived them. Yet this choice seems reasonable considering Mann’s literary work is widely acclaimed while the primary focus of the Tóibín’s book is Mann’s more obscure private life. “Buddenbrooks” tells of a merchant family living in Lübeck during the turn of the century; “Death in Venice” depicts Mann’s sexual fantasy surrounding a young Polish boy he may have met while visiting the city; and “The Magic Mountain” probably was inspired by Mann’s visit to Katia when she was a patient at an isolated Swiss tuberculosis sanatorium.

The core of the novel covers the family’s many tragedies and the two world wars. The two oldest siblings, Erika and Klaus were both writers and flamboyant political activists who openly opposed the Nazis. While Erica had a platonic marriage to the poet, W.H. Auden (only to acquire British citizenship), Klaus became a drug addict eventually committing suicide. Both were gay. Monika survived the torpedoing of the ship carrying her and her husband to safety. Her husband drowned and she was thereafter psychologically scarred. Golo was the family fixer and highly critical of his father’s personal choices. Elizabeth eventually became a noted political scientist; and the youngest, Michael, was a successful musician but remained distant from the family. Thomas’ brother, Heinrich was a less successful writer, living in his younger brother’s shadow. Early, he adopted radical political beliefs and eventually died in obscurity. Thomas and Katia were able to successfully flee Europe to America where they lived in Princeton and Southern California, all the while publicly espousing anti-Nazi sentiments and working to bring their family members to safety.

Tóibín explores Mann’s strengths and psyche through an intimate narrative style. Unlike many modern novels, he adopted a simple chronological timeline, telling the complex and intriguing life story of one of our towering literary figures. Thomas Mann lived through 80 years of most interesting times with some truly unforgettable characters.
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I didn't know much about Thomas Mann coming into this book and it certainly is an accomplishment in how it tells his life story through fiction. However, the breadth of this novel, which spans a fictional account of almost the whole life of the famed author, lacked depth in my opinion. The historical events that this book spans are captivating, yet I was left wanting more in terms of the story of Mann and the other characters. I wonder if a greater focus on one period of Mann's life may have been more interesting. That being said, this novel does do a lot well still and would definitely be worth the read for anyone interested in Mann.
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When I first heard of a fictional biography about Thomas Mann, an author who lived through fascinating times while being one of the biggest authors of his time and a Nobel peace prize winner, I was quite excited. Toibin is a quite popular author that had already done a different fictional biography on Henry James that, if I had read, I may have been better prepared for what to expect. Thomas Mann is an author I have enjoyed and greatly respect and this biography occasionally reminded me of his writing style which I appreciated however, as good as this was at times, I feel like too much time and too many big subjects we’re glossed over leaving me wanting more. I may just revisit the inspiration for this book again soon. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this drc available through netgalley.
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The Magician is a fictional life of German author Thomas Mann. It focuses heavily on his sexual life (he was bisexual) and his family life: his brother, also an author, his wife and his children. The historical background is barely alluded to until the rise of the Nazis forces Mann into exile. The style is... well, biographical. I was hoping for more magic, I guess, given the title and the subject.
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Thanks to NetGalley for this advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review.
This is my first book my Colm Toibin, but I have heard his works are masterpieces. In the magician, we learn about Thomas Mann, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and his extensive talented family. The Mann family lived in Germany at a time when it was quite dangerous for Jews or homosexuals to live. The Mann family, liked many others, struggled with their identities but also tried to live and work in their home countries.
Extensively researched with many quotes and situations that were likely very much true, Toibin teaches us not only about Thomas and his family and their ordeals, but sheds light on yet another story of the holocaust that needs to be heard.
There were a few places in the book where I felt the page was written solely to put in a quote. Where the quote was said and then the story shifted abruptly to the next point. I felt like the author had a lot of material he wanted to impart on the reader and some places were rushed or disjointed.  But overall, the work is excellent and well worth the read. It’s more factual than a heart rendering story of the era. Many stories set out to make you attach yourself to the characters and it breaks your heart to end the book. This is where I felt it was slightly more like a non fiction where the facts were presented, letting the reader decide how to feel about it.
4*
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I realized early on that I am not the target reader for this book. The historical setting interested me, but the focus on the main character's sexual desires are not of interest to me. I did not complete the novel.
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What a beautifully written fictional biography of the life of German writer Thomas Mann.  I loved the story of his life but also enjoyed the story of Germany, as told through his life story. From a recently united nation of Prussian origins to the entity that entered WWI, soon taken over by the Nazis and finally, the new nation that emerged from the war. Through Mann, we see the importance of our identity as it relates to our nationality, completely separate from changing politics and events. All in all, I emerge book,though felt that it may have been a bit long.
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