Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann

imagesThe famous author Auschenbach travels to Venice on vacation. There, he sees a beautiful adolescent Polish boy named Tadzio. Auschenbach takes what he believes is an artistic interest in the boy, but his interest slowly devolves into a lustful obsession.

FYI: I read the Bantam Classics translation by David Luke.

I really wanted to like this book and I really thought I would. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out for me. It’s a short book, only about 70 pages, but it was so, so tedious. If I hadn’t skimmed three-quarters of the text – you’ll understand why in a minute – I never would have made it through. Most of it was big long blocks of text full of philosophy and references to mythology (I guess I should have saved this for the Once Upon a Time Challenge…). I liked the parts that actually focused on the characters, but unfortunately those parts were in the minority. Plus, the idea behind the book was creepy. Though Auschenbach never even speaks to Tadzio, he does go to lengths such as following him around Venice to keep watching him. The author…seems to be okay with this pedophilic obsession. And I’m not okay with that.

Honestly, I wonder if my translation was just bad. It’s supposed to be a good translation, but I feel like I’m missing something critical in reading it. I wish I could read this in the original German just to see if it would be better and less tedious that way. For instance, this is the first sentence of Chapter 2:

The author of the lucid and massive prose-epic about the life of Frederic of Prussia; the patient artist who with long toil had woven the great tapestry of the novel called Maya, so rich in characters, gathering so many human destinies together under the shadow of one idea; the creator of that powerful tale entitled A Study in Abjection, which earned the gratitude of a whole younger generation by pointing to the possibility of moral resolution even for those who have plumbed the depths of knowledge; the author (lastly but not least in this summary of enumeration of his maturer works) of that passionate treatise Intellect and Art which in its ordering energy and antithetical eloquence has led serious critics to place it immediately alongside Schiller’s disquisition On Naive and Reflective Literature: in a word, Gustave Aschenbach, was born in L . . . , an important city in the province of Silesia, as the son of a highly-placed legal official.

Yes. That is all one sentence. Oh. My. God. And the whole book reads the exact same way. Can you see why I wonder if this is a translation issue or an issue of the original text? I mean seriously, that sentence is 157 words long. 157. And it’s not the longest sentence in the book. Really, it would have been much easier to read had the very last couple lines been placed first. Originally on reading, I was thinking this was a list of different authors, not a list of things one particular person had created. I had to learn how to skim through all that to get the relevant information.

That’s not to say there was no point to this book. I’m glad I read it and I certainly wouldn’t recommend skipping it (just this translation perhaps). I had to read some lit analysis afterwards to really understand everything I missed in reading the text, but it’s an interesting little book. Creepy and longwinded, but interesting. I just feel like I missed something important in translation. Whatever Mann was trying to say, it didn’t come across to me.

Has anyone else read a better translation? I would love to get a better look at this book. It seems like it could have been so much more than I got from it, and that’s frustrating.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2010, Adult, Prose and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann

  1. Pingback: Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler | The Zen Leaf

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