A fascinating historical novel about the troubled relationship between Klaus Mann and his famous father, Thomas
Depicting historical reality in a believable way is no easy task. But in Een Mann (A Mann) Rindert Kromhout undeniably proves his skill as a writer. Writing from the perspective of Klaus Mann (1906-1949), he convincingly shares with the reader this author’s difficult coming of age, whose fate and perhaps misfortune was to begin his career in his father’s shadow.
It is July 1926. Klaus is living in Paris, where – following the premiere of his play Anja und Esther - he has become frustrated with his writing. His frustration stems from an identity crisis: he sees himself as a wild, spirited and rebellious artist and yet is struggling with a perceived lack of appreciation from his conservative father, who appears to prefer his sister Erika, a year older than Klaus, and his father’s kindred spirit in every respect. Does his aloof father, the man he admires so greatly, whom he has significantly called ‘the magician’ ever since his childhood, believe Klaus does not have sufficient talent as a writer? Or does he disapprove of Klaus’s open homosexuality?
Encouraged by Sylvia Beach, the founder of the famous Parisian bookshop ‘Shakespeare and Company’, which at the time was the essential meeting place for literary greats like Hemingway and Joyce, Klaus decides to write his father a letter. When it looks as if that might prove too confrontational, he chooses a different form and, thinking of his father’s Buddenbrooks (1901), he writes a touching, classic coming-of-age novel, hoping that it will bring the two of them closer.
Kromhout not only sketches the elitist artistic milieu against the backdrop of the dramatic events of the first half of the twentieth century both realistically and vividly, he also subtly poses interesting questions about the power of literature and what it can do with reality. Should Klaus, like his father, ‘transform the truth into a mirror for his readers’? Or follow in the footsteps of his liberal uncle Heinrich, his father’s opposite, the very model of a socially and politically engaged author? One thing is certain: A Mann is a very rich and rewarding tale. Let’s hope Kromhout is quick to write the sequel.