This contains spoilers.
Here’s a first: a Klaus Mann novel I was looking forward to but that I ended up wanting to finish very quickly because I wanted the book to end and wanted to move on to something else.
This was Mann’s first book after having to emigrate from Germany. The story features a young woman who is forced to flee from the Nazis because she’s a communist and has been involved in helping the resistance.
She manages, by way of false passports and underground travel, to go to Finland where she can stay with a friend’s family.
What follows is basically Mann’s argumentation for putting one’s political ideals over caring for the people around one, and this is where the book falls down for me.
While the MC manages to get out, her parents are left behind in Berlin, now unable to work because of their connection with an “enemy of state”, and yet our MC doesn’t seem to care. Maybe she’s trying to suppress her feelings in that regard to keep sane and to find the strength to not despair, but that is not how it struck me in the book.
When in Finland, she observes that people there too are, to some extent, sympathising with the Nazis because they believe to have a common foe in the Russians, and yet, instead of trying to fight this, our MC only thinks about her friends and comrades who have managed to settle in Paris and who are continuing to run operations from there.
It’s almost like our MC is on the run from her own involvement by looking to be involved at another place rather than dealing with the people and day-to-day situations that occur around her.
Maybe this is an expression of our MC’s feeling of helplessness or depression at the time, but given the political polemics that are thrown in throughout the book, I didn’t get the impression that despair or paralysis to act were something that Mann wanted to communicate. Given that at the end of the book, our MC decides to, yet, again leave the people she loves (and who really could do with her help) to join “the cause” in Paris, paralysis does not seem to be her issue as much as facing up to the task of realising the needs of the people around her.
Now, maybe it is because I disagree with this call to arms for an idea, that is so impersonal that it completely ignores the actual people it is meant to serve, or maybe it is that I dislike having politics – any politics – pushed at me, but the underlying motivations for what our MC does or does not do in this novel just made no sense to me.
Of course, it may also be that Mann himself didn’t find any credible motivations in the acts of the characters, or of many of the people around him, when he wrote the book, but as much as I could sympathise with him writing the book in the circumstances that he did, it just did not make for compelling reading. Especially not, when we know he could write much better books.