Death in Venice
Thomas Mann
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Death in Venice
Thomas Mann
translated by Michael H. Heim
160 pages
June 2004
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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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.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Nancy A. McCaslin, 2004

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