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Joseph and His Brothers: The Stories of Jacob, Young Joseph, Joseph in Egypt, Joseph the Provider Hardcover – May 10, 2005
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“This excellent new translation by John E. Woods is a cause for celebration: first, because Joseph and His Brothers is in fact a great novel that will now be discovered by a new generation of readers; and second, because Woods himself is to be credited with an extraordinary achievement . . . Woods tackles the challenges of Mann’s wide-ranging diction with exuberance . . . Mann has finally found his ideal English translator.” –New Republic, Ruth Franklin
About the Author
Thomas Mann was born in 1875 in Germany. He was only twenty-five when his first novel, Buddenbrooks, was published. In 1924 The Magic Mountain was published, and, five years later, Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Following the rise of the Nazis to power, he left Germany for good in 1933 to live in Switzerland and then in California, where he wrote Doctor Faustus (first published in the United States in 1948). Thomas Mann died in 1955.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is too long.
It is, of course, a retelling of the stories of Jacob and Joseph from Genesis, which are excellent stories, but they don't bear the 1,500 page treatment. Mann adds a good deal of flavor from Persian and Sumerian legend, and the historical grounding of this novel in the reign of Akhenaton is a clever idea, but it's not quite enough to stretch a book out that much. Every Bible verse gets ballooned to at least twenty pages, and I'm not one to insist on a rigorous plot, but it loses something to spend 200 pages reading about how Potiphar's wife fell in love with Joseph, when you already know exactly how that will turn out.
Even the nature of the story works against him. Mann makes note of how the story of Joseph parallels the story of Jacob -- a young man has to flee to a distant country because of his brother's jealousy, but then outsmarts the natives and becomes rich -- but that redundancy only makes the book drag heavier: The story of Jacob is a comparatively brisk 300 pages (and by far the best part of the book), and then we treat the same themes at quadruple the length.
Occasionally Mann bucks this tendency to good effect. The climactic scene between Joseph and Potiphar's wife in her bedroom is coyly dealt with in half a page. But he actually seems aware that it's a slog. On page 1382, after Joseph and his brothers are reconciled, he pleads with his readers not to put the book down. Sarcastically, he imagines the reader saying,
"So that was it, the lovely 'It is I' has been spoken, and it can't get any lovelier than that. That was the high point, and now the rest will just be played out, and we already know how, so there's nothing exciting left."
This hypothetical reader is exactly right.
I'd also like to say a few words about the translator. Of course there's no accounting for taste, and (not speaking German) I can't say how accurate or suave the translation is. I know people seem to like him, but Woods' translation is very disappointing. It has no zest. I often think of Lowe-Porter's mellifluous phrasing, and some lovely passages from The Magic Mountain and the short stories stick with me, even now. This translation is literal, staid and straightforward. For a writer like Mann who is dreamy and discursive, it is not a good match.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Thomas Mann is beyond superb.Read more