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Sparkling new translations highlight the humor and poignancy of Mann’s best stories—including his masterpiece, in its first English translation in nearly a century.
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.
Damion Searls is a prize-winning translator of fifty books from German, French, Norwegian, and Dutch, and the author of the forthcoming book The Philosophy of Translation.
Thomas Mann, a member of a Hanseatic family with deep roots in Lübeck, was arguably Germany’s most famous twentieth-century writer. In 1929, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
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... 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.
— Publishers Weekly
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 . . . 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.
— Brendan Driscoll - Booklist
I have long loved Thomas Mann's subtlety, erudition, and elegant mind, but it wasn't until reading these newly translated stories that I picked up the range of the author's irony and humor. The art of translation seems to me the most delicate and precise of literary arts, and Damion Searls stands at the very apex of translators into English.
— Lauren Groff, author of Matrix
Damion Searls has produced the perfect Mann translation; the author’s erudition and aesthetic sensibility are mutually enhanced instead of one being sacrificed for the other. Mann has never been more readable in English, and the English reader never more aware of the shining beauty of the source.
— Anton Hur, translator
Although Mann’s stories are more than a century old, Damion Searls’s new translations capture the writer’s sly humor and warmth, making these short masterpieces feel wholly modern. Readers who know Mann will see him anew; for those who haven’t read him yet, this collection is a superb introduction to one of the greats.
— Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind
Searls’s selections of this funny, ironic, exceptionally readable 20th-century writer’s work are as inspired as his engaging and lucid translations: here we have the slow-burning torment and humiliation of 'Louisey,' the charming irony of 'Confessions of a Con Artist, By Felix Krull,' the startling emotional acuity of 'A Day in the Life of Hanno Buddenbrook,' and the great rediscovery, 'Chaotic World and Childhood Sorrow,' which condenses a novel’s worth of empathy, family conflict, and fine-grained observation into a riveting story less than forty pages long. Towering above all is 'Death in Venice'—the extraordinary pandemic tale, refreshed and haunting in its best-ever translation. I’ve spent years waiting for the Mannaissance—the publication of New Selected Stories will, at last, bring it into being.
— Mark Krotov, coeditor, n+1
In this vigorous new version . . . Searls takes pains to bring Mann’s decades-old prose to life without anachronism or false breeziness . . . A well-chosen, confidently translated gathering of stories that casts new light on its author.
— Kirkus Reviews, starred review