Anna Katherina Schaffner at the Times Literary Supplement:
“Klaus Mann was six times jinxed. A son of Thomas Mann. A homeless exile. A drug addict. A writer unable to publish in his native tongue. A not-so-gay gay. Someone haunted all his life by a fascination with death.” Thus opens Frederic Spotts’s elegantly written and deeply moving biography of the writer Klaus Mann. These lines set the tone for the exploration of the tragic life of a courageously uncompromising and truly European intellectual, who, born in 1906 and living through the darkest period of European history, was plagued by both political and personal calamities in almost equal measure. Spotts leaves the reader in no doubt that Thomas’s coldly judgemental attitude towards his eldest son was a root cause of many of Klaus’s problems.
In his diary, Klaus complained that his father’s “general lack of interest in human beings is especially strong toward me”. If there was indeed such a lack of interest, it certainly did not prevent the harshest of judgements, for, in his own diary, Thomas pronounced of Klaus: “The boy is morally and intellectually not intact”. In his novella Disorder and Early Sorrow (1925), a thinly disguised family portrait, Thomas describes the character modelled on Klaus as someone who “knows nothing, can do nothing and thinks only how to play the clown and lacks even the talent for that”. There is little if any evidence to suggest that Klaus’s remarkable achievements later in life altered his father’s damning verdict on him.