The brothers Mann, both articulate witnesses of this century's European upheaval, give lively testimony to their usually competing perceptions.
Thomas Mann and his older brother, Heinrich, were both prominent novelists in Germany before the First World War. Though they had much in common, they fell out politically and philosophically with each other over their competing visions of Germany. Thomas was a deeply conservative, anti-Western nationalist; Heinrich was a francophile advocate of Western democracy, an avowed opponent of Germany's prevailing romantic nationalism. The war brought their rivalry to a head and provides this fine volume with its most compelling, bitter, and revealing letters--revealing about Germany at the time, about the sibling rivalry of two novelists, about myriad fascinating details of their private and writing lives. The underlying love-hate relationship that defines all their exchanges to one degree or another lends this book the character of an epistolary novel: Thomas's internationally rising star vs. his older brother's decline into obscurity. Thomas, of course, is best known in the US for his cosmopolitan commitment to Western democracy during the Nazi era. The letters to and from his brother clarify just how gradually the shift in his thinking occurred and what its limits were. It took the great novelist a good long while under considerable pressure from Heinrich and his children to break with Nazi Germany entirely. Happily, this beautifully edited and translated volume contains copiously informative notes and explanations. Anthony Heilbut's (Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature, 1996) foreword helps to situate the renewed interest in the brothers Mann. Edited by Hans Wysling, longtime director of the Thomas Mann Archive in Zurich, this first complete English translation of the correspondence is an exemplary edition.
The letters of the brothers Mann constitute a crucial document of 20th-century German culture and politics, and they are by any standard fine reading.