Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

This is a little bit of a cheat--or a great deal of a cheat, depending on how you feel about such things--because this excerpt is from a book I haven't finished. I made it a good way through, and then something intervened (I can't remember what) and I never picked it up again. And where discussing a passage from a book you don't know at all offers an obvious challenge, I've been surprised by how hard it is to narrow down my thoughts about books I know--it seems--too well.

Here is breakfast at the Sanatorium Berghof. It is observed with the same care and formality with which the Sanatorium's inhabitants note their every symptom. This takes place very early in the book, as Hans Castorp--for now just a visitor at the Sanatorium, not a patient--gathers impressions and begins to reckon with the shadow that falls over even the nicest things or (to move the metaphor from outward to in) the ever-present rotting core.

The translation is by John E. Woods:

There were plates of marmalade and honey, bowls of oatmeal and creamed rice, plates of scrambled eggs and cold meats; they had been generous with the butter. Someone lifted the glass bell from a soft Swiss cheese and cut off a piece; what was more, a bowl of fruit, both fresh and dried, stood in the middle of the table. A dining attendant in black and white asked Hans Castorp what he wanted to drink--cocoa, coffee, or tea? She was as small as a child, with an old, long face--a dwarf, he realized with a shock. He looked at his cousin, who merely shrugged and lifted an eyebrow as if to say, "Right, what else is new?" and so Hans Castorp simply accepted the fact and, since it was a dwarf, asked for his tea with special courtesy. He began with some creamed rice topped with sugar and cinnamon, meanwhile letting his eyes wander over the other items he intended to sample and across the seven tables of assembled guests--Joachim's colleagues, his companions in misfortune, all with the same illness deep inside, all chatting and breakfasting.


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shayma said...

this is one of my favourite books of all time- even if horrifically depressing. i love the choice of excerpt.

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