Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, as the subtitle implies, tells the story of the decline of one influential German family from its height. It is a fine, detailed family saga that marks four generations. Tomas Mann weaves a complete story here starting with the first generation, gradually descending onto the next generations. Mann touches on the first one briefly so as to establish the setting of the story and introduce the main actors of the saga. The next three, he touches in detail. The story is centered naturally on the Buddenbrooks family, so the main actors are the family. And there are only a few other important characters, so it was easy to keep track of this voluminous work. For my part, I most enjoyed the stories of the third generation. I felt that Mann has put more time and effort into giving it a more detailed and psychological portrayal. The characters of Thomas, Antonie, and Christian Buddenbrooks interested me more given their different character traits which Mann has described in detail beautifully.
If one looks into the story, it is more or less filled with the hopes, wishes, ambitions, and everyday life of the Buddenbrooks. The main theme of the story revolves around their family pride and the wish to maintain their status no matter what the cost. And Antonie, being the only woman of the third generation of the Buddenbrooks, naturally becomes the human sacrifice to help maintain the Buddenbrooks status. Antonie, in whom the family pride is instilled at a very young age, is a willing bait. She, like other Buddenbrooks, thinks highly of their family prestige. And although she failed miserably in her share of contribution to the family pride (not only her but her daughter too later on), never for one moment did she forget the status people owed to the Buddenbrooks.
The life stories of Antonie and his siblings, and later on Thomas’s son, Hanno, interested me more than others. But overall, though finely written and completely composed, I didn’t much care for the storyline which I felt thematically monotonous. However, I truly enjoyed the psychological portrayal of many characters. The character analysis, their thoughts, actions, and eccentricities interested me more than the storyline. In fact, that’s what kept me going through to the end. I enjoyed Mann’s writing which was precise and beautiful. But unfortunately, the story didn’t grab me as it ought to be. It was like a soap opera set up in a different time period. I’m probably in the minority here. But I was rather disappointed after my long wait to read Mann. However, this isn’t my end with Mann. His writing attracts me, and I admire his ability to penetrate deeper into human psychologies.