Venice--a magnificent Adriatic, holiday city which becomes a city
of an unexplained epidemic and a city of death for Aschenbach.
Gustav von Aschenbach–-a well-known, outwardly successful, but
inwardly lonely German author who has lost the feelings for
life's excitement and pleasures.
Tadzio–a young Polish boy vacationing with his family in Venice.
Thomas Mann's famous novel tells the story of Aschenbach, who
decides to vacation in Venice to rejuvenate his interest in life,
and of Tadzio, who causes Aschenbach to realize passions again in
his life as Aschenbach admires, fantasizes, and loves the boy
from afar. Heim's translation treats Aschenbach with respect,
even compassion, and the reader comes to grips with
Aschenbach's mental and physical transformation from a
disenchanted, dignified adult who upon seeing Tadzio, a beautiful
young teen, rediscovers his own youth and a thirst for love.
Symbolism is present throughout the novel, but Heim's translation
permits the reader to draw on his or her own experience to
interpret its importance. For example: the stranger in the
cemetery Aschenbach observes on his way to catch a tram is
described in detail and apparently has a significant impact on
Aschenbach's decision to travel and "change his scenery" for the
summer months. Venice's black gondolas, representing death, are
also symbolically important. And the city itself – a decaying city,
a city with an encroaching epidemic – casts its spell over
Aschenbach. The novel, however, whether through the writer's
words or the translator's, permits the reader to decide the
importance and effect of the symbolic elements.
According to Michael Cunningham's "Introduction", Heim's
translation treats Aschenbach differently from other
translations. Cunningham discusses the differences in character
development in various translations and explains the effect of
Heim's approach to Mann's intended meaning. The book is an easy
read, but much of the meaning and significance is realized after
the "story" has been read. Readers who have a vision of Venice,
whether armchair or personal, will be impacted by Heim's
description of the city. For those readers who have read other
translations of Death in Venice – read this one and compare the
character development, the descriptions, and intended effects.
For those readers who have not read Mann – read Heim's translation
for a thought-provoking experience.