Lately I have expended some thought on the potential of books to preserve some of the experience of a particular time and place. Buddenbrooks is such a work. A detailed description of a German city in the midst of the nineteenth century. The tale spans three generations of the Buddenbrook family.
Early on during my reading I could not help but compare Thomas Mann's artistry to that of Daphne du Maurier. And this is high praise for du Maurier's "Jamaica Inn" stands as very high art with me and a part of my reread collection. It is artistically matched in everyway by Buddenbrooks and indeed the latter is in some ways superior. Mann's deft handling of suspense and his subtle and effective descriptions of everyday life. It is all very normal and humdrum in 'Buddenbrooks', no great storms and high crimes like in "Jamaica Inn" but Mann keeps you reading, always interesting up to the very end. The only reason why this book makes my permanent collection and not my reread collection is because it is 'heavy' fare. very rich, very heavy. It's like eating a very rich and satisfying meal - a feast - that was nice but I can't think of repeating it.
The early part of the book struck me with the concept of the firm or family corporation. More than that it was the familiar concept of family honor and material wealth and status. It attracted me and struck me with its aura of solidity. By the end of the book all the wealth and position and status and indeed the lineage of the Buddenbrooks had all but disappeared. Just like that. This is a book that reminds us that despite our best efforts the trappings of life are ephemeral. Take that lesson as you see fit. It could mean that you should enjoy every moment. It could also mean that one should not demand permanence from impermanent things.
I have read in Wikipedia that somewhere in Germany is a statue dedicated to that country's artistic giants. Amongst the names carved in that statue is that of Thomas Mann. Rightly so, even in translation this writer shows just what good writing is really like. I am from Pasig and I grew up Filipino but for a while I was in nineteenth century Germany growing up in the Fatherland noting the differences and similarities and coming out with a sense that we are one human family.
Thank you Thomas Mann.