The more of Klaus Mann’s work I read, the more of a fan I become.
It took me a while to read Treffpunkt im Unendlichen not because I the book wasn’t good, but because I needed to get rid of some other distractions to spend time sinking into the book. Luckily, I have finally had that lazy Sunday that enabled me to do that.
There is not much of a plot to the book. It is the story of a group of young friends who start their own lives and careers in the late 1920s / early 1930s Berlin and all the entanglements that this brings – Treffpunkt im Unendlichen is as much an account of the Lost Generation as Fitzgerald’s stories, tho I far prefer Mann’s.
In contrast to Fitzgerald, Mann does not hold back on the descriptions of the full range of emotional sensations, not does he spare the details of the seedier side of life – prostitution, drug abuse, suicide, cruelty. Not that his books are dwelling on these themes, but they are present. Where Fitzgerald always caused me to revel in the descriptions of the age but wanting to slap his whiny characters, Mann’s characters are much less self-absorbed and create a sense of community on the page that makes it easy to join in, even if this community is dysfunctional.
The dysfunction and doom do not come across as dramatic devices, either. Rather the fates of Mann’s characters are mere observations of what happened to people around him, chronicles of the forgotten, the lost of the Lost Generation. There is some realism in this book that surpasses the descriptions of bright city lights, cosmopolitanism, parties, cabarets. There is a sense of foreboding. There is a sense of uncertainty. Most of all there is a sense of how differently people are affected by the ever-changing demands of the world around them, and how at the end of the day each person has to find a way to cope that works for them, because community can be marred by unreliability.
I loved it.
P.S. If people were upset by Mann’s depiction of Gustaf Gruendgens in his celebrated work Mephisto, they clearly haven’t read this one. The character of Gregor seems to be a blueprint of the character that Henrik Hoefgen in Mephisto was going to be.
P.P.S. I deliberately do not make comparisons to Hemingway. Hemingway’s characters (and maybe the man himself) had the emotional range and empathy of a block of wood. In my view, he’s just pretty overrated.
P.P.S. I don’t know if Treffpunkt im Unendlichen was ever translated other than into Danish (when it was published in 1932), but the title is an interesting choice – I would translate it as “meeting point in infinity”, although I have seen people describe it as “rendezvous in eternity”. Part of the point of the characters experience is that they long to find someone that they can be one with, but it is not clear whether this is possible or whether are forever existing as separate entities living in parallel with others. But there is some hope that these parallels will cross or “meet” at some point.
Interestingly, this seems to be a point that Carson McCullers seems to take up in her work, too. (McCullers knew Mann, and his sister, and their friends.) It was interesting to see the parallels (ha!) between both writers, but of course I could not say whether McCullers drew any inspiration from Mann’s work (even tho she was decidedly close to a mutual friend).
(Erika Mann, Klaus Mann, Pamela Wedekind, Gustav Grundgens – all of whom are reflected in Mann’s characters)