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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family

Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family - Thomas Mann

Buddenbrooks is not a book I would've likely noticed or picked up had it not been for an invitation from the Thomas Mann group. German literature has never attracted me and Thomas Mann was among that class of authors whose work, I felt, was probably more effort that it was enjoyable. (He had that look about him, okay?) So I made some assumptions based on nothing, so what? Had it not been for the subtitle of the book, “The Decline of a Family,” I probably still would be ignorant of Mann's abilities; but that subtitle pulled me in—I wanted to know more about this family tragedy. I'm glad Mann included it as part of his title.


What I most appreciated about Mann's writing was his use of description. I'm not a big fan of descriptive passages, authors that drone on and on about the shape of the table and how the hands of a grandfather clock move. Normally, I find it irrelevant, tiring, and detrimental to the forward movement of the plot. But Mann succeeds in this regard. His descriptions give life to the story. It paints the background and sets the stage for the scene. Colors and props become meaningful to the theme. In fact, I think it would be easy to say that his scenery is a character of its own.


Aside from scenery, excellent characters were also found in Toni and Hanno. Both were developed wonderfully, and I looked forward to their every scene. I think I could've like Christian had he been similarly developed, but he was more of a plot device than a character. Unfortunately for me, a large part of the novel focused on Thomas and I was never able to connect with him. By the novel's conclusion, I was completely ambivalent toward his character.


In the end, I enjoyed Buddenbrooks greatly. There were moments I lost interest, particularly when Thomas was at the center, but this did not take away from the grand setting and story that made this novel fabulous. Thank you, Thomas Mann, for reminding me not to make assumptions.