In this dizzyingly rich novel of ideas, Mann uses a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps--a community devoted exclusively to sickness--as a microcosm for Europe, which in the years before 1914 was already exhibiting the first symptoms of its own terminal irrationality. "The Magic Mountain" is a monumental work of erudition and irony, sexual tension and intellectual ferment, a book that pulses with life in the midst of death.
Hans Castorp - on the verge of an intense flirtation with Clavdia Chauchat, a married woman and feverish fellow patient - is perched high above the world, dozing in his splendid lounge chair at the International Sanatorium Berghof, swaddled in blankets against the Alpine chill. To his surprise and secret delight, he will remain on this "magic mountain" for seven years - removed from the "real" world, but irresistibly drawn into the sanatorium's own complex, vertiginous society, which in Mann's hands becomes a microcosm for Western civilization and its interior life on the eve of the First World War.
Flooded with feeling, with powerful evocations of disease, with the glories of the natural world and inklings of the supernatural, The Magic Mountain is equally remarkable for Mann's treatment of time - the "flatland time" of healthy, active people and the "inelastic present" of the "people up here, " for whom illness is a lifelong career. Mann is a master at drawing dazzling characters with the finest irony: Settembrini, the impassioned Italian liberal, and Naphta, the caustic Jewish Jesuit, whose opposing worldviews trap them in a grotesque duel; Mynheer Peeperkorn, the enormously wealthy Dutch planter whose garrulous "personality" all but overwhelms his fellow patients; the blustery Director Behrens and subtle Dr. Krokowski, whose combined energies rule the day and the night of the Berghof; Clavdia Chauchat, the elusive Russian beauty whose slinking charms can awaken forgotten love; and, of course, Hans Castorp himself - the ordinary made extraordinary - whose interior journey leads him out into a blinding snowstorm and a stunning, fleeting moment of revelation; Hans, who is last seen on a battlefield of the Great War - the very conflict toward which every word of the novel has been magnetized.