The Magician by Colm Toibin is a dramatised biography of the life of German author Thomas Mann, his relationships with family, his writing career from early success to Nobel Prize to political exile, and his influential voice being used (or not used) during the rise of National Socialism, and Mann's struggles with his sexual identity, particularly during one vivid sequence in the novel featuring a desperate flight from Nazi Germany and a left-behind suitcase full of incriminating personal diaries.
The above paragraph is also an example of the writing style frequently employed by Colm Toibin in his novel, employing a long run-on sentence of ideas that carries the reader through Thomas Mann's life as though on an inexorable tide much like that which Mann was also on: the headlong rush of early- to mid-twentieth century historical upheaval.
The term "magician" was bestowed upon Thomas Mann by his children, however the term can equally apply to author Colm Toibin's trick of breathing vivid life into what could in the hands of a less accomplished writer be an otherwise dry literary biography. Throughout the several decades the reader spends with Toibin's Mann, we experience the career highs and personal lows of this very real historical figure with whom many readers may have been otherwise unfamiliar (in our own book club Chapter's recent discussion of the book, around half of us hadn't heard of Mann or his novels).
While at times "The Magician" may be a necessarily fictionalised life of Thomas Mann, the reader never feels cheated by this fact. For example, even with a lengthy scene we spend inside Mann's imagined desires for a handsome youth while on vacation with his family, the reader can understand this comes about as just another manifestation of how well Colm Toibin has researched his subject so thoroughly as to literally be able to be inside Mann's head.
"The Magician" is an entertaining read, and at times an educational one. It is also a great example of the variety of book-reading opportunities that Tough Guy Book Club offers -- "The Magician" probably isn't a novel this reviewer might have otherwise discovered on their own, and feels rewarded for the experience.
Chris Daniels (Newtown Chapter)