Review by Booklist Review
Searls' superb translations of Mann's most essential short works emphasize moments of despair and levity, breathing fresh humanity into the stories of the famously solemn German literary giant. At the core is a newly polished Death in Venice, Mann's celebrated novella of artistic and sexual reverie (and cholera). Paired with Confessions of a Con Artist, by Felix Krull, which was written concurrently but published much later, we see similar themes from different angles, the irreverent latter perhaps liberating the former from problematic angles or being overly serious. "Chaotic World and Childhood Sorrow," translated for the first time since 1936, and "A Day in the Life of Hanno Buddenbrook" squirm with wry observations of youth and domesticity. And in "Louisey," a darkly humorous early work, a musical performance reveals the depths of a sad-sack lawyer's sexual humiliation. Searls is meticulous in his attention to German-language nuance but intuitive in channeling the tensions and rhythms of his source material. His introduction reveals a deep fascination with Mann's complexities, and an anxiety that Mann might soon be dismissed as a twentieth-century relic with little relevance to today's readers. His work here goes a long way toward preventing that from happening.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Searls infuses the prose of Nobel laureate Mann (1875--1955) with momentum and energy in this excellent collection. English-language readers will find the humor and digressive appeal of Mann's prose enhanced in modern classics such as "Chaotic World and Childhood Sorrow," in which teen siblings mock their parents by calling them "the Elders" and a little girl named Lorrie sobs over her older crush, an engineering student named Max, while not yet understanding romantic love: "why...isn't... Max . . . my brother? Max . . . should be . . . my brother." Aschenbach, the 50-something author at the center Death in Venice, rationalizes his obsession with "beautiful boy" Tadzio, whom he meets at his island hotel, with comparisons to Greek heroes. A well-chosen excerpt from the novel Confessions of a Con Artist, by Felix Krull exhibits a connection between the title character, a peripatetic young man, and Mann's other protagonists: "What a royal gift the imagination is, and what pleasure it affords us!" Felix narrates. Throughout, the characters are linked by their unspeakable desires, and their inner worlds are just as significant as, and often more so than, their actions. Scholars as well as those new to Mann will find much to appreciate in Searls's stimulating approach. (Feb.)
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A fresh, revealing translation of some of the German writer's now-canonical stories. In this vigorous new version, Searls emphasizes aspects of Mann's life and work that have not been well aired outside of the scholarly literature. One is Mann's mixed-race background, including Indigenous and African ancestry through his Brazilian mother, little known to general readers but certainly known to the Nazis who drove him out of Germany. Among other things, Searls holds, this background lent a personal touch to Mann's insistence that German culture was connected as much to the Mediterranean as to the North Sea. Mann was also unafraid to explore sexuality--and homosexuality--in his works, which drew the wrath of the censors. Finally, Searls argues that Mann is often funny, a fact obscured by rather musty earlier translations, with his humor "far more than the supercilious 'irony' he is generally credited with." Searls takes pains to bring Mann's decades-old prose to life without anachronism or false breeziness, and where the language is sometimes not quite idiomatic, as when Felix Krull stands alongside his dead father in "Confessions of a Con Artist, by Felix Krull," it is to point out the German love of abstraction and distance: "I stood at the husk of my progenitor as it grew colder, holding my hand over my eyes, and paid him the copious tribute of my tears." Krull's father isn't quite the scamp his son is, but Krull's indeed humorous story has Papa selling rotgut champagne, arguing, "I give the people what they believe in." One character longs to be "a dancer or a cabaret reciter," tossing out bourgeois convention, while another, decidedly not "a woman of good morals," is revealed to be canoodling with a young musician. Then, of course, there's "Death in Venice," arguably Mann's most perfectly realized story, with its intimations of mortality on every page, as when its professorial protagonist steps into a gondola "so singularly black, black as otherwise only coffins are." A well-chosen, confidently translated gathering of stories that casts new light on its author. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.