Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thomas Mann, East German Edition: Bibliotragedy

When I traveled east for graduate studies in German at Princeton, I carried with me a 12-volume edition of Thomas Mann's works given to me by Chuck Hamaker, a friend and librarian. We had one child, Joe, and very little money, living on the $2500 yearly stipend the German program had awarded me.

 Books were precious.

After about a year in Princeton, our daughter Maren was born. She sometimes slept with us in those first months. One night I fell asleep while reading Mann, letting the book slide down to the floor. 

 During the night, one of us changed Maren's diaper and dropped the soaked cloth beside the bed. Directly onto the open book.

By morning the book was swollen to three times its normal thickness. Days of drying ensued. I tried all kinds of things, including showering the pages with baby powder. Today, 33 years later, while taking photos of the books, I slammed the pages of the book together and was greeted by a fragrant puff of baby powder.

And which of the volumes was it? The Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull (The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man), of course, a book that drips delicious irony all on its own. This page (646) doubles down on the irony with its account of Lust und Liebe, which, as Mark Twain pointed out, is like familiarity, which breeds children in real life, if not in novels.


Anonymous said...

The BYU library had declared the East German edition of Mann a "duplicate", not because they already had it, but because a bibliographer decided the other editions had all the content of the other. Funny but true. They sold it to me at less than cost. Chuck

* said...

anything fluid is worse for books than fire i had to find out.... by sort of related experience.. drowing boook in bathtub vs burned by candle...