Book review of ‘The Magician’ by Colm Tóibín

Publishing in September 2021, is ‘The Magician’, a new book by Colm Tóibín, author of many, many books including ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Nora Webster’.

This is a largely fictional, yet meticulously researched, account of the life of Thomas Mann, the Nobel Prize-winning German author of ‘Death in Venice’ and ‘The Magic Mountain’. The story begins with 16 year-old Mann in his small village of Lubeck, where he lives a comfortable life with his vibrant Brazilian mother and much more sedate German father. The family are well-respected and influential, and it is this life of privilege and wealth that allow him to explore life as a writer rather than take up a role in the family’s business. When he marries Katia, an indulged yet cultured woman from a rich, cultured yet chaotic household, he secures a future near to her twin brother with her twin brother, with whom he is fascinated.

Germany in the first half of the 20th century is perhaps not the most fortunate place for a repressed homosexual such as Mann to reside, and he fathers six children with Katia in order to maintain his place in society. Revered for his novels, critical essays and speeches, ‘The Magian’ paints a picture of a stable life of comfort and luxury for Mann and his family, which is then disrupted by First World War and the particular horrors of the Second World War, during which he is exiled to Switzerland, France and finally America.

If you are interested in the life of Thomas Mann, or want to see how life in Europe changed during the first half of the twentieth century, then you will find this book to be fascinating in both its detail and description. Tóibín’s characterisation is an absolute delight, and even with all the Klauses, each character was clearly defined and engaging. I particularly enjoyed the author’s depictions of the strong women in Mann’s life, and found that the deeply complex character of Mann himself was more than a suitable subject for this fictional work – indeed, few people have lived such an interesting life as Thomas Mann. I did, however, find the author’s style to be somewhat dry and ‘heavy’ in places, and the tone often slips into reading more like a non-fiction biography than a novel, with some sections missing the ‘colour’ of the early chapters.

The image shows the cover of 'The Magician' by Colm Toibin.  It shows the black silhouette of a man standing in a gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice.
You can buy a copy of ‘The Magician’ on Amazon here.


From one of our greatest living writers comes a sweeping novel of unrequited love and exile, war and family.

The Magician tells the story of Thomas Mann, whose life was filled with great acclaim and contradiction. He would find himself on the wrong side of history in the First World War, cheerleading the German army, but have a clear vision of the future in the second, anticipating the horrors of Nazism.

He would have six children and keep his homosexuality hidden; he was a man forever connected to his family and yet bore witness to the ravages of suicide. He would write some of the greatest works of European literature, and win the Nobel Prize, but would never return to the country that inspired his creativity.

Through one life, Colm Tóibín tells the breathtaking story of the twentieth century.

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