A towering figure in the pantheon of twentieth-century literature, Thomas Mann has often been perceived as a dry and forbidding writer–“the starched collar,” as Bertolt Brecht once called him. But in fact, his fiction is lively, humane, sometimes hilarious. In these fresh renderings of his best short work, award-winning translator Damion Searls casts new light on this underappreciated aspect of Mann’s genius.
The headliner of this volume, “Chaotic World and Childhood Sorrow” (in its first new translation since 1936)–a subtle masterpiece that reveals the profound emotional significance of everyday life–is Mann’s tender but sharp-eyed portrait of the “Bigs” and “Littles” of the bourgeois Cornelius family as they adjust to straitened circumstances in hyperinflationary Weimar Germany. Here, too, is a free-standing excerpt from Mann’s first novel, Buddenbrooks–a sensation when it was first published. “Death in Venice” (also included in this volume) is Mann’s most famous story, but less well known is that he intended it to be a diptych with another, comic story–included here as “Confessions of a Con Artist, by Felix Krull.” “Louisey”–a tale of sexual humiliation that gives a first glimpse of Mann’s lifelong ambivalence about the power of art–rounds out this revelatory, transformative collection.