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Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told by a Friend Paperback – July 27, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (July 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701160
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #136,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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101 of 109 people found the following review helpful By D. Roberts VINE VOICE on January 4, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 taking this one on. It will make more sense that way and will also provide a remarkable opportunity to see the evolution of a wonderful myth. Now, to attempt to summarize a masterpiece like this in a few words is absurd, but I will do my best. Marlowe's Faust is the most straightforward of the three (not that it is not a great work of literature itself, mind you). Faust is an absolutely brilliant character who is so brilliant, in fact, that he is bored with life. So he makes a deal with Mephistopheles (one of Satan's demons) that he will have 25 years of almost omnipotence, being able to do anything and possessing almost god-like powers. However, when the 25 years are up, his soul will belong to the devil. Goethe's Faust is one of the top 5 or so greatest exemplars of literature ever written. It is, quite simply, astounding. In short, the plot is kinda/sorta the same, only in Goethe there is no time limit in the agreement with Mephistopheles. Rather, at the point when Faust ceases to press on and becomes sedentary, the devil has him. It is the moment in which Faust utters "Stay, moment, stay....thou art so fair" that he will be doomed. I do not want to say anything more about Goethe's Faust so that I can refrain from giving anything away. At any rate, enter Thomas Mann with a 20th century twist on the myth. Adrian Leverkuhn sells his soul to the devil for a new form of music. Satan grants his wish and gives him Schoenberg's 12 tone. (Of course, it is Leverkuhn's 12 tone in the novel).Read more ›
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Joanna D. #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 27, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 Apollonian (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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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Alan Mason on December 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
In Doctor Faustus, arguably his greatest book if not the greatest book ever, all of Mann's formidable gifts come together. Lying at the heart of Mann's concern is the central figure of Adrian Leverkuhn, theologian turned composer. In him all the warring impulses, all the contradictions of our age are focused. "Cold" by nature, inclined to mathematics and to "speculate the elements" as scientists do, he yet craves the freedom and unrestraint of art, specifically music, the most demonic of the arts. But the fearful complexities of modern composition and his own innate coldness form an insuperable barrier, he needs something to kindle him to his destiny as a great composer. This turns out to be the Devil, who in a memorable interview heavy with fate offers him a quick way out of his difficulties.

The book teems with unforgettable images. To pick a few at random: the extended description of Adrian's sojourn in the Italian countryside, where he meets the Devil and his fate is sealed; the wintry excursion to the Bavarian Alps; the vision of the children in the choir singing a motet to Adrian, bedecked with rubies on their fat hands while little yellow worms crawl from their nostrils down into their chests in the finest diabolic style. The density and vividness of Mann's imagery, its capacity to fill the mind and linger there, is Shakespearean.

Mann's treatment of his characters is sensitive, fine-grained, subtly ironic, and humanly engaging, with much wry humor.
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