Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

During the month of November, I participated in the German Literature Month event hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life.  For this event I read Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.  Mann published this work in 1901 and he was twenty-six years old at the time.  In 1929, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Before discussing the novel here are some details about Mann.  He was born in Lubeck, Germany in 1875.  His father was a grain merchant and senator.  When his dad died in 1891, the trading firm was dissolved and Mann’s family moved to Munich.  He worked in an insurance office until the publication of his first work, Gefallen.  He gave up his job to attend the University of Munich and the Technical University of Munich, where he studied economics, history, art history, and literature in hopes of pursuing a career in journalism.  He lived one year in Rome and started to devote his energies to writing.

In 1905, he married Katia Pringsheim, who came from a prominent Jewish family.  In 1933, when Hitler came to power, he left for Switzerland.  At the outbreak of World War II, he emigrated to the United States and settled in Princeton, New Jersey.  He lectured at the University.  Again he moved on and in 1941 he settled in California.  In 1949 he visited Germany, his first trip back to his place of birth in over ten years.  He eventually settled in Switzerland in 1952 and lived there until his death in 1955.

Mann has four novels on my 1001 list.  This was my first time reading any of his works.  Buddenbrooks, is an epic novel that chronicles the downfall of a wealthy mercantile family of Lubeck.  I was amazed when I realized that this was his first novel since it is beautifully written.  I assumed that this masterpiece came at the end of his career, not the beginning.  He began the novel when he was twenty-two years old and completed it in three years.

Using the family saga, he pits the business world against the world of artists.  Thomas Buddenbrooks, the eldest son of Johann Buddenbrook, has to take over the family business at a young age after his father’s death.  Thomas does not understand his younger brother Christian who is enthralled with the theater and is a hopeless failure in the business world.  Thomas also struggles relating to his only son, Hanno, who is a sensitive soul who daydreams about music.  Moreover, he has to contend with his sister Tony, who has been twice divorced scandalizing the family.  To make his life more miserable, the family business is failing along with his health and prestige in the town.  The family struggle highlights not just the different worlds of businessmen and artists, it is an excellent study of the major events that happened in German history during the years 1835-1877, including the Revolution of 1848, the Austro-Prussian War, and the establishment of the German Empire.

Mann’s city in the novel has some of the street names and particulars from his hometown of Lubeck.  He never names his own family or other families from his hometown, however, he has been criticized by some critics and readers for revealing hometown secrets and family skeletons.  It should be mentioned that the fictional family does not have the same fate of Mann’s family.

Reading this novel was a pure joy.  The trials and tribulations of this family sucked me in completely.  I am eager to read his other works on my list.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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25 Responses to Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

  1. Tony says:

    I read ‘Buddenbrooks’ last year and loved it. Very autobiographical (which some people don’t like), but I’m a sucker for a meaty novel! Here’s a link to my review if you’re interested:
    http://www.tonysreadinglist.blogspot.com/2010/12/once-upon-time-in-lubeck.html

    • TBM says:

      I bet some people don’t like their secrets being revealed. I was impressed with this novel. It is nice to sit down and read an epic that can keep your attention and leave you wanting more. Thanks for the link to your review. Great job!

      • Tony says:

        My copy of ‘Tonio Kröger’ and ‘Mario und der Zauberer’ just arrived from the Book Depository, so I’ll be enjoying some more Mann in the not-so-distant future 🙂

        Once I’ve finished with the aftermath of ‘1Q84’, that is…

      • TBM says:

        Oh I hope you enjoy them. I have a feeling that Mann could become one of my favorite authors. Will you write reviews on them? How is 1Q84?

      • Tony says:

        I’ll certainly try to review them if I read them 🙂

        As for ‘1Q84’, I’ve finished now, and I enjoyed it – not his best, but still a good effort (but with some flaws). I’ve written two tongue-in-cheek posts on the first two books (already up on my blog), and I’ll be wrapping it all up on Thursday.

        I take these things far too seriously 😉

  2. frizztext says:

    we had to study this in school …

    • TBM says:

      I don’t know if I would have loved this novel at an earlier age. I find I appreciate more books now, especially since I am reading them for pleasure not because I have to. Did you like it?

  3. Great review! It sounds quite interesting. I’ll have to look into Buddenbrooks and Thomas Mann – I have never heard of either the book or the man!

    Great post! 🙂

    • TBM says:

      Thanks. He sounds like he had an interesting life given the time period he lived in. I’m curious to read his later works to see how world events shaped his writing. If you do read this novel I hope you enjoy it. His writing is beautiful.

  4. wolke205 says:

    We had to study it in school, but I think it was way too early for 13-14 year olds to read & understand it. It s well written (I think they also made a movie later), but you have to be a bit older with more experiences to understand the real meaning of it..

    Best regards, Frauke

    • TBM says:

      I completely agree with you. If I read this in my teen years I don’t think I would have appreciated the beauty and the complexity of the characters and history. As an adult, I see his beauty and can relate to the troubles and good times. Life is a great teacher.

      I’ll have to look for the movie. Thanks!

  5. TBM says:

    I’ll do my best to find the movie!

  6. Caroline says:

    There is a movie of Buddenbrooks and one of the family Mann which I just bought – a mini series really.
    I haven’t read Buddenbrooks, I started with his last book, Doctor Faustus which is excellent but I think The Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks are superior. Whether you prefer the one or the other is more a matter of taste. Mann was one of the very rare novelists who didn’t have to mature. He was right there from the start. Amazing, isn’t it?
    I’m glad you reviewed it. We have had a few Mann reviews but none of this novel.

    • TBM says:

      I can’t believe that he could write this well right out of the gate. A lot of authors have to hone their craft. He has a lot of talent. I’ll have to check out the other Mann reviews. Let me know how you like the miniseries. I’m very curious now to see it.

      Thanks for co-hosting the event. I hope you do it again next year.

  7. denise:) says:

    Well, my tail is wagging. I just put it on request at my library. Thank you!

  8. Jo Bryant says:

    I think I will have to add him to my list now – sounds wonderful.

  9. The Hook says:

    Books rock, don’t they?

    • TBM says:

      I have loved reading ever since I was a kid. I grew up in a book family and I feel lucky. So many people in today’s world don’t read anymore.

  10. niasunset says:

    Why I haven’t read this novel, I don’t know. Thomas Mann with his “Death in Venice” and also with “The Magic Mountain” impressed me so much and I read in times again and again. But this “Buddenbrooks”! When I read you now, I decided to read this novel too. Maybe it is the time to read… One of my favurite writers says that, as people find books to read, books find their readers too… (It was something like that, I tried to translate 🙂 ) Thank you dear TBM, your book posts, recommends, really hits my reading world. With my love, nia

  11. Mome Rath says:

    This is one of my favorite books I read this year, and very well told. Glad you enjoyed it, and great choice for German literature month!

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