DEATH IN VENICE by Thomas Mann (translated by David Luke)

This has to fall into “don’t really know what to say” category. Please forgive the excessively personal and subjective nature of this review. When one loves a book as much as I love this one, anything else would be dishonest. Back in high school, I read some mention of Death in Venice in a literary reference book. At the time, I tended to read a great deal ABOUT literature but not much literature. However, as soon as I read about it, I knew I had to read Death in Venice.  I remember going to Barnes & Noble, wondering, for some reason, if they would even have a book like that. My heart jumped when I found it, in David Luke’s translation. I bought it as if it was some rare gemstone. It was late spring, my junior year. It became incredibly hot. As I sat, alone in the cafeteria, reading Mann’s words I daydreamed that the plague in the book, borne by blistering heat, had somehow engulfed my school. Even then, I knew I was reading my own story. Not in the details, but in the essence. No one who has known solitude, who has gone long days and weeks with little or no significant human contact despite being surrounded by people will fail to recognize themselves in this book. Anyone who has not felt it can learn, from Death in Venice, what it truly means to be basically secure but enveloped in fear and silence.
I’m afraid my grades suffered a little. It was hard to concentrate. The book kept coming to me as I sat in class, yearning after the guy who sat across from me. One day, he glanced up from his locker and caught me looking at him. He smiled, friendly if a little puzzled. I fled. “You’re not gay, are you?” A friend had asked this anxiously after I said gay bashing was wrong. I had learned to flee. As I read Death in Venice, I knew I would always be fleeing a little bit in my heart.
Did I know, as I read, how much the battle between Apollo and Dionysus would haunt me? Did I already see how so many people I knew could turn their wild inner lives on and off without much effort while I would always dread losing control, dread the power of love, sex, friendship, fun? Did I already hear the music of the abyss that would call, alluring yet terrifying? Did I feel the power of logic, the desperate importance of maintaining reason? Did I see the stranger god of the book, demanding worship, promising untold wonders, needing to be vanquished?


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