Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 19

Week 19: Whew, what an ending! A bloody duel between Settembrini and Naphta, followed by the onset of World War I and the quick disassembly of the community we have been in for the duration. Then, in the final pages, a tour-de-force last scene depicting Castorp, our “simple fellow,” just one of thousands running through a landscape of exploding shells and fallen bodies. A satisfying feeling, to reach the end of a book and feel that the whole novel has been leading you to that last scene without your knowing it, and that the novel’s ending casts you back over the whole book. So much to say – I can’t wait to talk about this more with all of you tomorrow!

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Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 18

Week 18: What a fascinating sequence in our next-to-last week! In this week’s chapter, “Highly Questionable,” we witness a séance, with the medium of a young Berghof patient named Ellen Brand. Her “spirit,” a “deceased, ethereal creature” named Holger who “speaks” through her, conjures for Castorp and a small group of others, after nearly two hours of writhing and sweating, the figure of Castorp’s cousin, Joachim. What a moment! We don’t totally know what happens for Castorp as he sees his cousin, gazing at him in “friendly silence” with “tenderness,” but Castorp, in response, whispers “‘Forgive me,'” though the text specifies that he whispers it to himself. Does he say this to excuse the fact that he then gets up to turn on the light and leave the room? Or is he saying this, instead, to Joachim? A very powerful, evocative, and unexpected scene. And so we are propelled forward to the end! Those who haven’t finished yet, how do you predict this will all end? 

For next week: Finish the book!! And join our LAST zoom meeting on Saturday (not Sunday!) October 3rd at 11 am! Register at

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 17

Week 17: The conclusion of the Peeperkorn story surprised me quite a bit. And Chauchat’s departure doesn’t even get its own paragraph?! In the wake of these losses Castorp descends into a full solitude, a “stupor,” where meaning and engagement is harder to find. Yet we end these pages with the introduction of a gramophone to the Berghof; Castorp falls in love with it quite literally (his obsession recalls when he first started reading the medical textbooks), and we get an examination of his favorite recordings, which bring him into deep relation with the world of art and feeling. “…An object created by the human spirit and intellect, which means a significant object, is ‘significant’ in that it points beyond itself, is an expression and exponent of a more universal spirit and intellect, of a whole world of feelings and ideas that have found a more or less perfect image of themselves in that object – by which the degree of its significance is measured. Moreover, love for such an object itself is equally ‘significant.'” I love reading Mann on art; hard not to read all of this as a reflection on the novel itself, as we come close to its end.

For next week: Read to “The Great Petulance.” 

narrative medicine book club: Magic Mountain, Week 16

Week 16: In the conclusion of this week’s pages we see Castorp seal a new bond with Peeperkorn, a kind of brotherhood forged in the mutual love for Chauchat. In the scene prior, of course, we see Castorp forge a similar bond with Chauchat, agreeing to “a friendship…for [Peeperkorn’s] sake,” and then sealing it with a kiss! I wonder if Castorp will get in trouble for any of this, perhaps leading to the solitude I assume he must be in by the end of the book. As we head into the final stretch, looking forward to what folks are predicting for a conclusion (no spoilers!) – I note that the narrator is ever more interesting, as the voice speaks to itself and to the readers in more directed, perhaps even more frustrated ways? Looking forward to talking more on Sunday! 

For next week: read to the section “Highly Questionable.” 

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narrative medicine book club: Magic Mountain, Week 15

Week 15: Chauchat is back at the Berghof, and she has brought with her a very colorful character, wonderfully named Mynheer Peeperkorn (!). Aside from comic relief, I wonder what folks think Mann is up to with this character? Castorp and Chauchat share an interesting scene – there is clearly intimacy between them, though she discourages him from calling her by her first name – and then Peeperkorn arrives, and a raucous party ensues, the first I think we’ve seen this closely at the Berghof. Peeperkorn and Castorp talk about “vice” and “doomsday,” and Peeperkorn tries to get Castorp and Chauchat to kiss each other goodnight, to which Castorp refuses, an “act of insubordination” that amazes Peeperkorn. My interest is peaked! 

For next week: read to “Mynheer Peeperkorn (Conclusion)” in Chapter 7. 

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Narrative Medicine book club: Magic Mountain, Week 14

Week 14: In this week’s selection we see the return of Joachim to the Berghof — briefly a joyous reunion between the cousins, but then, within a few months, a swift deterioration leading ultimately to Joachim’s death. I’m not sure (yet?) what to make of this! Coming as it does, even in this one section, after more debate between Settembrini and Naphta, it seems perhaps to serve as a reminder (to the reader as well as to Castorp!) that no matter the intellectual arguments, illness and death are real, and the Berghof is not merely a site for contemplation and flight from reality. The director, standing at Joachim’s death bed, calls him a “crazy fellow,” saying that “honor was the death of him,” and that his return to “down below” and to “force and violence” was ultimately the cause of his death. I wonder. But I am sorry for the loss of Joachim (Joachim, we hardly knew ye!), and curious how his death will affect Castorp, if at all — especially as the return of Chauchat is now on the horizon. 

For next week: read to the section “Mynheer Peeperkorn (Continued)” in Chapter 7.

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 13

Week 13: This week’s pages were two sections that made an interesting juxtaposition: in the first, we learn more about the character of Naphta, and then Castorp witnesses another extended philosophical argument between Naphta and Settembrini, everything “intertwined and at cross-purposes, a great general confusion,” which is certainly how this reader experienced it! Then in the next section Castorp learns to ski, embracing the beautiful snowy landscape, and gets dangerously lost in a snowstorm, his fatigue and near frozenness inducing a hallucinatory dream in which the confusion of the philosophical debate seems to come clear to him. I can’t wait to discuss all of this with all of you as I admit I find it all very fascinating but also a bit opaque (“two half-naked old women” dismember and then “devour” a child in a kind of temple, in front of which lies a landscape of “sunny, civilized happiness”?). Castorp seems to be moving toward a sort of clarity of his own beliefs and understanding as the book moves into its final third…but how does it all coalesce for the reader? 

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For next week: Read to the end of Chapter 6!

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 12

Week 12: Joachim leaves the Bergdof! Quite suddenly, in a brief chapter, Castorp’s cousin has had enough and quickly departs. The cousins awkwardly say farewell, Joachim calling Castorp “Hans” in a “moment of the most embarrassing exuberance,” and then Castorp is alone, having chosen to stay on at the sanatorium despite the doctor having given him permission to leave. So interesting, the way the idea of health and illness is still played with here, with Castorp continuing to tell himself he is ill even when the veil is lifted and the doctor all but says it’s a hoax! In the next section, Castorp’s great uncle comes to visit — so much comedy ensues, as inevitably the doctors try to get him to admit he’s sick and should stay, and he himself wrestles against the pull of the sanatorium’s “spirit,” so strong that he literally has to flee in the night. But even after “a stay of only eight days,” Castorp thinks, “everything down in the flatlands would seem totally false, unnatural, and wrong for a good while…”

For next week: Read to section “A Good Soldier” in Chapter 6. 

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Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 11

Week 11: I may need someone to explain this week’s pages to me! Castorp and his cousin listen, in two different scenes, to discourse between Settembrini and his new housemate, Naphta, who, we learn late in these pages, is (gasp!) a Jesuit. The two men speak at length of lofty concepts, arguing about freedom, humanism, dualism, Man and Nature, communism, capitalism, the polarity of God. I admit my attention flagged in these pages, and then I had to laugh when Castorp says: “I was paying attention, but none of it was clear. Instead, the more they talked the more confused I got.” Looking forward to the historians and philosophers among you explaining all of this to me! Meanwhile, time on the mountain continues, and Castorp’s enthusiasm for learning everything never flags…

For next week: read to section “Operationes Spirituales” in Chapter 6

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 10

Week 10: Finally Castorp speaks to Madame Chauchat! What a wonderful scene; I wonder if others were surprised, as I was, at how completely Castorp confesses his love! All had been so repressed until this scene, I was surprised to see it come pouring out. His last gushing speech to her, supposedly all in French which he “does not speak,” felt very characteristic, however – a long discourse on the mechanics of body and death: “Ah, love, you know. The body, love, death, are simply one and the same. Because the body is sickness and depravity, it is what produces death, yes, both of them, love and death, are carnal, and that is the source of their terror and great magic!” And his last amazing plea to her: “Let me take in the exhalation of your pores and brush the down – oh, my human image made of water and protein, destined for the contours of the grave, let me perish, my lips against yours!” Very interested in the theme of love in this book, so clearly explored alongside illness and death…

For next week: read to the section “An Outburst of Temper” in Chapter 6. 

And join our zoom meeting Sunday at 11! to register.