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Musings on Mortality: From Tolstoy to Primo Levi Hardcover – October 15, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


 “Musings on Mortality is a book suffused with wisdom and argued with the strong hand of a weathered and feeling literary scholar. To treat such tragic and inconsolable subject matter with such clarity and respect, with such equanimity and understanding, is to levitate above it, in stoic courage and willed serenity. It is hard to imagine such thematic criticism being done better than here. What a beautiful book.”
(Thomas Harrison, author of 1910: The Emancipation of Dissonance)

 “A brave and eloquent book devoted to what André Malraux called ‘negating nothingness.’ Victor Brombert moves gracefully from Tolstoy, though Kafka, Coetzee, and others, to Primo Levi in a meditation that is both engaging and profound, highly erudite, and completely personal.”
(Peter Brooks, author of Henry James Goes to Paris)

 “This book offers a unique pleasure—a sustained conversation with one of the most learned and wise critics of our age about the great defining truth of human existence: the persistent awareness of mortality. Full of life, it is self-consciously the musings of old age, of a man who has spent decades with the consolations and discomforts of literature as it engages with death.”
(Thomas Laqueur, author of Solitary Sex)

 “With sensitivity and insight, Princeton University emeritus literature professor Brombert studies the work of eight 20th-century authors and their literary approaches to mortality and death. . . . The simplicity and directness of Brombert’s style gives his discussion of the philosophical and aesthetic underpinnings of the works under scrutiny great clarity, and his study of the authors in their native languages allows him to discuss nuances of the text that might otherwise have been lost in translation.”
(Publishers Weekly)

“Albert Camus’s The Plague, Thomas Mann’s doomed aesthete Aschenbach from Death in Venice, Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, and the writings of Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, and J.M. Coetzee are all examined by this distinguished scholar in exemplary essays that reflect the authors’ different fears and hopes. Brombert’s eloquently written book is for serious lovers of literature.”
(Library Journal)

“It is clear that Brombert, a fine scholar and critic, is also an inspiring teacher. . . . The moments when Brombert engages in autobiographical reminiscence or tells anecdotes about his students are delightful and instructive.”
(Times Higher Education)

“An eloquent and stylish book of high-end, close literary criticism. . . . Brombert’s examination of each author’s work is the epitome of academic objectivity and the product of a lifetime of dedicated scholarship and extraordinarily wide reading. . . . The exploration of the authors’ ideas, their personal circumstances and especially their works—all classics—invite further reading.” 
(The Australian)

“Brombert’s thoughtful observations on the finite nature of existence make for interesting reading.”
(The National)

Musings on Mortality is an invitation to learn gladly from a deeply cultured man who would gladly teach. [Brombert’s] lesson, to use his own words about Primo Levi, is a ‘lesson in human dignity.’ And among the dignities of man, as Victor Brombert convincingly demonstrates, is the serious discussion of serious literature, which treats it as having something wroth saying to those who would only listen.”
(D. G. Myers A Commonplace Blog)

“This handsome, compact book is, in fact, a work of elegant, beautifully written literary criticism, examining how eight major writers—‘From Tolstoy to Primo Levi’—dealt with death in their fiction. It offers the highly distilled insights of a master teacher.”
(Michael Dirda Wall Street Journal)

About the Author

Victor Brombert is the Henry Putnam University Professor Emeritus of Romance and Comparative Literatures at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including In Praise of Antiheroes: Figures and Themes in Modern European Literature, 1830–l980, also published by the University of Chicago Press, and the wartime memoir Trains of Thought. He lives in Princeton, NJ.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (October 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 022606235X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226062358
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,009,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By gillian siemon-netto on January 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although this book is the work of a very serious scholar it is a page turner. What a privilege to have access to such a learned critique. If you have not read the books he analyses you will want to read them straight away.... and if you have read them you most certainly will want to read them again.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on June 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Victor Brombert has had a long and distinguished career as teacher and critic of French Literature. In this book the nonagenarian reads work of Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf, Kafka ,Camus, Coetze, Primo Levi, on the subject of Mortality. He opens the book however with a chapter on his own personal history. The shock at the death of his pet bird, the devastation wrought to his parents through the death of his five year old sister, the fate of those whose stories he reads about in the LIterature of War, his own participation in the Battle of Normandy and the true hell of death in war which he saw, are all part of this.
Brombert opens with a reading of Tolstoy's classic story Ivan Illitch and traces the process of how the individual consciousness becomes aware of its own mortality. The parallel between the haughty disregard of others shown by Ilich when a judge and that shown to him by his doctors is one central element of this. Gradually Illich who thought 'there would be an exception in his case' comes to the horrifying loneliness which the consciousness of one's own imminent death brings. But in the course of the work he will also look at collective destructions as described in the works of Camus and Primo Levi.
Brombert writes with great intelligence sensitivity and human concern.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Angels asked GOD: ' Who is man that You are mindful of him?' We are all THIS man!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By john o' brien on October 2, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
i am still reading it; check back with me in a month
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