Castorp by Pawel Huelle

Castorp by Pawel HuellePawel Huelle‘s latest book, Castorp, can probably be enjoyed on a number of levels.  As it is a prequel to Thomas Mann’s famous novel The Magic Mountain, a familiarity with that novel, Mann’s work, and the literature of the period will give you a deeper appreciation of Huelle’s novel.

Or you could just be a curious reader like me who comes to the novel with less background, but who can still appreciate the work and the skill involved.

The only Mann novel I have read is Death in Venice, and I am certainly not overly-familiar with the literature of this period, so I don’t have the background to pick up on all the nuances.  I was simply drawn to the book because I had enjoyed Huelle’s previous work Mercedes Benz.

And I enjoyed this work as well.  I may not have understood all the literary references, or fully appreciated how Huelle captured the tone and style of Mann and the character of Castorp, but I did enjoy it as an interesting period piece that explores the psychology and sociology of pre-war continental Europe.

For a smattering of quotes from some other reviews that I found interesting click below.

CJ Schuler in The Independent does a nice job of highlighting the way Huelle explores the relationship between Germans and Slavs – between East and West – while weaving in literary references:

Aside from Mann, Huelle weaves a skilful web of cultural references. He is drawn to his compatriot Joseph Conrad: a shipboard argument between a Belgian commercial traveller and a German missionary plunges us into the world of Heart of Darkness, while Castorp’s ensnarement in Russian émigré society, with its revolutionaries and spies, recalls Under Western Eyes. Castorp is no meretricious attempt to cash in on a classic, but an intelligent, intriguing and atmospheric novel worthy of its inspiration. It is admirably served by Antonia Lloyd-Jones’s nuanced and readable translation.

Ian Beetlestone has one of those two paragraph reviews that I am so jealous of and I think sums up my feelings well with two sentences:

Huelle’s novel is a delightful period piece, interested in the psychology of a prewar continent. His style is charmingly effective, the book written with an understated wit very much of the era in which it is set, and gently, deceptively provocative.

Nelson Wattie in the New Zeland Listener points out in greater detail the intereaction between Mann’s work and Huelle’s and literary references and symbolism involved.  He concludes:

With its wide range of literary reference, its readable, its witty style and its multiple dimensions of meaning, Castorp deserves to be read closely – and then read again.

That is probably very true.  In fact, I was tempted to read Magic Mountain and then read Castorp again.  But the length of Mann’s work – 900 pages – disuaded me.

Lastly, I also found this short interview at Polish Writing interesting.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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