Thomas Mann’s two eldest children, Erika and Klaus, were unconventional, rebellious, and fiercely devoted to each other. Empowered by their close bond, they espoused vehemently anti-Nazi views in a Europe swept up in fascism and were openly, even defiantly, gay in an age of secrecy and repression. Although their father’s fame has unfairly overshadowed their legacy, Erika and Klaus were serious authors, performance artists before the medium existed, and political visionaries whose searing essays and lectures are still relevant today. And, as Andrea Weiss reveals in this dual biography, their story offers a fascinating view of the literary and intellectual life, political turmoil, and shifting sexual mores of their times.
In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain begins with an account of the make-believe world the Manns created together as children—an early sign of their talents as well as the intensity of their relationship. Weiss documents the lifelong artistic collaboration that followed, showing how, as the Nazis took power, Erika and Klaus infused their work with a shared sense of political commitment. Their views earned them exile, and after escaping Germany they eventually moved to the United States, where both served as members of the U.S. armed forces. Abroad, they enjoyed a wide circle of famous friends, including Andre Gide, Christopher Isherwood, Jean Cocteau, and W. H. Auden, whom Erika married in 1935. But the demands of life in exile, Klaus’s heroin addiction, and Erika’s new allegiance to their father strained their mutual devotion, and in 1949 Klaus committed suicide.
In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story
University of Chicago Press, 2008. 272 pages.
“Andrea Weiss proves here that complex life forms can thrive in the dark. In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain illuminates not only its primary subjects, Erika and Klaus Mann, but also the father who overshadowed them. A brilliant and important work of historical and literary portraiture.”
David Hajdu, author of Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina
“Weiss has got hold of an intrinsically dramatic story, and she tells it well. The dual lives of Thomas Mann’s eldest children combine homosexuality, political conflict, and the unfathomable burden of being the offspring of Germany’s greatest living writer. The chief merit of Weiss’s lively rendering of this story is the way she links the fates of Mann’s progeny not only to one another but to many of the major figures of European culture. Hence her book also tells us a great deal about the lives of anti-fascist intellectuals and artists in the Nazi era.”
Paul Robinson, author of Gay Lives: Homosexual Autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette
“In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain [is] an extravagance of highbrow gossip, with such raisins in the cake as Andre Gide, Bertolt Brecht, Sybille Bedford, Jean Cocteau, Stefan Zweig, Muriel Rukeyser, Christopher Isherwood, Janet Flanner, James Baldwin and Carson McCullers.”
Harpers review (click on publication for full review)
“Andrea Weiss tells their story with enthusiasm, sympathy and insight.”
The Spectator (U.K.)
“In her useful and sympathetic book about the Mann family, In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain, Andrea Weiss… charts the shifting nature of their relationship with considerable care.”
London Review of Books (U.K.)
“Theirs is a fascinating tale. Outside the pages of the Manns’ own memoirs and essays, or of Klaus’s deeply personal fiction, it’s hard to imagine it more sympathetically told.
The Times (London)
“Author of Vampires and Violets: Lesbians in the Cinema (1992) and Paris Was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank (1995), Andrea Weiss was on an inevitable trajectory when she finally sat down to write the story of Erika and Klaus Mann. The scene was set, the drama a tragedy. Klaus’s lifelong attempt to win his father’s approval — or die trying, which he did — was a campaign complicated and harried by cataclysmic world events brought masterfully into play by Weiss.”
The Australian (Melbourne)
“Weiss’s account of all these episodes is discreet, understated and moving. It is to be hoped that it will serve to remind Americans of an important episode in their history and two very special visitors to their shores.”
Times Higher Education (U.K)
Available in hardcover
Also available in an earlier edition in German from
Beautiful never-before-seen photographs illustrate Weiss’s riveting tale of two brave nonconformists whose dramatic lives open up new perspectives on the history of the twentieth century.