Writer Jeyamohan in one of his enlightning lectures on the art and form of the novel, answering question on novels on Hospital had two mentioned two notable ones, Cancer Ward and The Magic Mountain.
I had bought these novels long back and kept it without reading for a long time. Recently I read “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann one of the greatest novels of twentieth century. The novel is the experience and life of Hans Castorp, young German Engineer who in a travel to Berghof (Tuberculosis Sanatorium) in the Swiss Alps for three weeks vacation, eventually lives for Seven years in there. (On a Personal note I wanted to quit IT after one month in bangalore and now I am here for seven years).
Berghof is a Sanatorium treating patients affected with Tuberculosis in the Swiss Alps , people who stay there for years together some curing and some terrible ill that they die is surrounded by snowy Alps. Hans Castorp visits Berghof to see his Cousin Joachim who is undergoing treatment for Tuberculosis for almost an year now. Mann brilliantly captures the difference in approach of people who are healthy for whom time and life is ongoing and compares with the monotonous nature of time at the Sanatorium. This is an enduring theme the difference in perception of time, the impact of sickness and disease in our perception of time and life. Castorp on seeing Joachim, explains to him that he plans to stay for three weeks. Joachim suggests to Castorp that three weeks is no time out here in this place. Castorp on his arrival is intriuged by the place, the thinness of the air , the caustic humour of Director Behrens, the life style of the Sanatorium the endless meal people seem to be eating, the rest cure after the dinner etc. After three weeks Castorp himself is diagnoised with moist spots and admitted as a patient. By this time Castorp falls to this sedentary life of no activity, he is gradually aclimitised to nonaclimitisation. He has two vivid encounters one is with fellow patient Clavdia Chauchat who famously irritates Castorp everyday by the banging of doors during the meal times, but eventually they develop a secret relationship of glances and love that can only be understood in the backdrop of sickness and weirdness of the place. Castorp also develops a relationship with another sick patient Herr Setembrini a liberal democrat , a man of progess and enlightnment whos interest range from Scientific enlightnment and Free Masonry.
Castorp as his stay keeps extended at some time looses all interest in returning to the flat lands. His whole life now becomes gradually interwined with the life in Berghof. He stops communicating, he even continues to stay well after Joachim leaves the place in revolt against his prolonged stay insisted by Director Behrens. One starts to wonder what really is sickness, how come Castorp life undergoes such change in the Sanatorium.
Castorp completely cut off from active life deviates and wastes time in meaningless pursuits his empathy with dying patients, his love relationship with Clavdia, his endless debates with Settermbrini and Naphtha, at sometime in the novel I started identifying with Castorp, if you compare the modern life as the life in the Sanatorium. This novel actually starts becoming something different, it starts becoming into a parody of modern life, its acceptance of status quo, its meaninglessness, its myriad different difflections and distractions.
This novel also questions the core idea of sickness, what is it to be sick, what if a whole soceity becomes sick as the European Society before the First World War. What are the impacts that sickness has on human psyche, how does sickness impacts norms and relationships such as love. The basic human emotions becomes highly convoluted and complicated in the backdrop of sickness. Take the case of Castorp its highly difficult to understand the reluctance of Castorp to leave the Sanatorium, what makes him , what is the true sickness in him ?