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Thomas Mann: Joseph und seine Brüder (Joseph and His Brothers)

I strongly expected not to like this book. After all a four volume biblical epic is not many people’s idea of fun and the fact that it was long out of print in English (though fortunately reprinted) seems to suggest that others share this view. That would be a mistake as this is a very fine work even if you have no interest in the Bible. For what Mann does is not simply to retell the story of Joseph and his brothers, of Esau and Jacob and the coat of many colours but to tell a monumental story that is not just biblical but also brings in myths of many other lands (Greek, Egyptian, Phoenician) and weaves them together. He also makes Joseph a complex character who develops from a raw child to a leader, though it is in his description of Joseph’s relationship with the Pharaoh that Mann excels. Unlike most of his other works, Joseph is still a key part of Mann’s work and is well worth reading.

Publishing history

First published in German by Fischer 1933-43 (Die Geschichten Jaakobs (The Tales of Jacob) (1933); Der junge Joseph (The Young Joseph) (1934); Joseph in Ägypten (Joseph in Egypt) (1936); Joseph, der Ernährer (Joseph the Provider) (1943)
First published in English 1934-44 by Knopf