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The idea of the character haunted my mind for days. I couldn't shake the feeling that while reading this novel, I had heard the ideas portrayed somewhere before, somewhere all too familiar.The first book I was ever to read in German struck a nerve so closely, that now, a year later, my thoughts still sometimes drift back to the innocent yet deeply confused young Tonio Kroeger.
My grandmother handed me the book, the day before my first day at my new school, with nothing more than a casual "Hier, das sollst du mal lesen." You should read this, she said, and went on to describe the book as a staple of German literature. I have to admit, I was initially disinterested. It was a daunting challenge and I had better things to do, mainly go out and meet my new schoolmates. I didn't want to stay holed up in my room with some book, I thought too myself. But as I began to establish myself at the school, I decided I could use a little practice in reading in German, so I sat down and immersed myself in this story.
"Tonio Kroeger" was written by Thomas Mann, a prominent figure in pre-war German literature heavily influenced by Nietzschean values. It follows the life of a boy, the son of an Italian artist and a German banker, who constantly presents himself with conflicts that in reality, are all just in his head. He inherits qualities from both sides of his family, which seem to clash in his personality. He has a taste for the arts from his mother and a pragmatic, sometimes cynical, approach from his father. The predominant question in the book is that of art versus life, or art versus intellect, as Tonio tries to fulfill both callings. This dilemma resonated with me, as I have put off this question for a while myself - a career in the arts or in academia? I have ultimately decided for the latter, but I'm sure will always be drawing and painting on my own time.
It seemed the plot was taking ages to comprehend; it felt as if it was only compromised of little stories and anecdotes which seemed to have absolutely no meaning. It wasn't until I came across a specific scene that I fully understood the running theme of isolation and confusion in the story, of being shut out of a world purely by your own means. I knew what this felt like, as a kid, wondering why it was so hard for me to jump up and join the other kids dancing around at birthdays and parties.
In that scene Tonio Kroger, still young, is forced to attend a ball-room dance class. He is horrified b y the scene, anxious and trepidant, yet still somehow mesmerized by the goings-on around him. He feels both intellectually above them and at the same time deeply envious of their innocent energy and spirit and what he deems to be naivety.
And while I felt this way often, mostly throughout middle school, whether it simply due to anxiety or something more, I feel that that has changed greatly over the years, and especially thanks to my trip to germany, I've had the chance to see myself in other worlds and through other people's eyes. Now I jump at opportunities to get outside, do new things, and above all, meet new people. I view every day as a blank page for me to write my name on; as a test for me to prove what I am capable of, whether it be artistically inclined or otherwise.
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