The Magic Mountain

Alternate realities might be the reason why people love books and movies. I for one love turn of the century novels, or any story happening in England generally, because I wish I could live there one day. But, have you tried to live some of those alternate realities though? I wrote a fancy version of the following many times in my mind but since my Friday is too lazy to finesse any art, let’s try out candid randomness.

Two weeks ago, we had visitors from Netherlands at work. One of them is a 59 years old man who’s even healthier than myself. All talks between us were strictly work related until the night we decided for the team to have dinner together. We were so many, and I remember how we actually had to wait for the restaurant staff to fix us all those booths in the very center of the space. We were the highlight of their night, I am sure.

During large dinners, conversations are always half conversations. Some people stay silent. Some people just try to occupy the guests with entertaining remarks or intriguing cultural questions. Of course, you wouldn’t also want to miss the menu translation, mostly funny part. At work, me and three others are famous for being good entertainers. It’s a mix of having good English and being a dexterous conversationalist. That night it so happened that I was seated between both foreigners. The first half of the night I was preoccupied with the younger guy, who happened to order a very Egyptian dish, and whom I exchanged light opinions with about Egypt, Holland and things I don’t really remember.

Frank was on my left side, and right after an Egyptian work colleague of mine told him that I write, the guy left the whole party and turned his complete focus on me. With a curious smile and excited, almost sparkling eyes, he asked me to tell him everything.

The last time I had talked about my writing with someone was then too long ago. As I narrated to him how I started reading and blogging, I felt as if I was in a therapy session. I told him how the book that first entered my heart was Jane Austen’s Emma and how I love Booker Prize winners, how I wish I could actually win that one day, and then the dramatic Anna Karenina, the philosophy of Leo Tolstoy, the power of War and Peace, the calm beauty of The God of Small Things, Nabokov even, and the fact that he was a Russian novelist, writing in English about a character that’s originally French. And then we embarked upon German literature, Goethe and romantic suicide, the eccentric Kafka, and then finally Thomas Mann and his book The Magic Mountain.

I hadn’t known about Mann before, or that book of his. Frank tells me that the events there spanned seven years. In a daring move from him, he actually decided to read The Magic Mountain in the course of seven years, and guess what. He did. He actually read that story in seven complete years.

My jaw dropped. I don’t know what’s gotten to me more; his reddening excited complexion as he was telling me this, or the fact that he actually did it. He told me people thought he was crazy. He even told me about a chapter in the book that was all about the art of folding blankets in the sanatorium (the novel’s place set). He said he had to re-read some pages along the days, so that he’d not finish early. He actually lived the novel.

Now isn’t this amazing?

By the end of that therapeutic conversation, I noticed that I was actually shaking. His words were too sincere, and he genuinely loved reading. I haven’t seen such love for literature before, not even in myself, I guess. I told him I loved writing more. And then I opened my iPhone and showed him the book on goodreads, and he told me he’ll definitely have a look at it. It was like I had been missing this, so much I didn’t realize it would feel like this.

I mean, can you actually not know what you’re really missing? Ah, aren’t we mysterious folk?

The next day was his last day in Egypt. Around evening, while we were saying goodbyes, he said: “I had already taken a peak at your book, Ibrahim”.

The Magic Mountain is now on my reading list, and I don’t know, maybe I’ll do this cool live the story thing.

Would you?


7 thoughts on “The Magic Mountain

  1. I loved reading this. It was so refreshing reading something so light, so relatable,something about the shared love of reading, something that makes you crack a smile and imagine the scene.

    Much needed!

    P.S I notice you’ve changed your banner :D Normally every time I see a picture of Egyptians these days I’m having to get them identified as martyrs/detainees by relatives in Egypt, so it’s a hard habit to break – won’t you identify them for us?

    (Read this blog post while smiling and needless to say, the comments coming in from everyone around me has made them curious to all see what could make me smile so much – thank you bgad!)

  2. I am glad you liked the post. I loved that night so much I might write about it again. Thanks for reading, and for the smiles :)

    About the photo, from left to right we’re Mahmoud, Mohamed, myself, Mohamed and Mohamed :)

    That was an October afternoon in Alex, three years ago. A very special trip to me :)

  3. I really liked the post. Depending on the person you speak to, talking about books could be refreshing or a burden. What’s interesting was your description of it as a therapy. Can you elaborate more ? Did you feel it’s a therapy because you were describing to Frank your feelings while reading certain books or because you were listening to his opinions (and opinions from people of different ages AND cultures can sometimes be quite interesting and thought-provoking in my opinion) or because the discussion was kind of fluid between both of you (similar thoughts and opinions) ? I don’t know if what I ask makes sense to you, if not then just ignore the question :)

  4. It’s a mix of all. It’s hard for me to describe the therapeutic part of it because it’s quite complicated. I haven’t been feeling very well lately, and that night made me feel better in an unusual way.. alhamdulilah.

    Are you not ever going to tell me who you are? :)

  5. I am not someone you know. I am just a regular follower of your blog for several years now. I found your blog by chance through another blog. I found your blog interesting specially when you talk about books and religion. But there was a period where your posts where too dark so I stopped reading for a while (I don’t criticize, it’s your private space after all) but I went back as the posts got less sad :) Lately I feel that you have improved in organizing your thoughts as you write.

    I have a tip for you if you are in search of peace. Have you ever heard about “Reviving the Islamic Spirit” conference ? In Canada, a group of people organizes every year in December, a conference with the greatest scholars from around the world. It last three days if I remember. I plan to go one day isA :). Until then, I watch it live streamed. First time was last year. It was amazing. I felt so much peace. Of course because of the time difference, it’s hard to watch everything but I was recording the night sessions to watch them in the morning. You can watch the trailers and some of the previous years’ talks that they make available to get a feel of how it looks like. Website is The live stream is not free but not very expensive also and totally worth it. It’s better of course if you have a nice internet connection, mine was 1Mb I think when I watched it last year. Sorry for the extremely long comment.

  6. First of all long comments on my blog constitute part of my favorite reads. I am honored to have you as a reader.

    If it’s not too much to ask, would you tell me about those dark posts? Around what time did my blog irk your peace that way?

    About the conference, sounds amazing,!I shall have a look isA :)

    Drop a line every now and then, it makes me so glad :)

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