Kafka: A Biography

Yale University Press  2004

 
Franz Kafka was born on July 3, 1883 in the center of Prague. As Kafka’s friend and biographer Johannes Urzidil wrote, “Kafka was Prague and Prague was Kafka.” Among the ornate gravestones of the Prague- Straznice Jewish bourgeoisie, one finds the large, gray, tapering Cubist monument on which are inscribed the names of Dr. Franz Kafka and the parents he predeceased. This “unobtrusive but wholly original presence... could not be a more fitting memorial to a writer whose unique genius continues to fascinate the world,” writes Nicholas Murray, Kafka’s most recent biographer.

Murray’s biography of the most famous Czech-born German-speaking novelist and short story writer emphasizes the cultural and historical contexts of Franz Kafka’s fiction and the complex and defining relationship between the author of The Trial and his overbearing and demanding father, Hermann Kafka. 

Nicholas Murray, a novelist, poet and author of biographies of Bruce Chatwin and Mathew Arnold, relies on Kafka’s diaries and correspondence to successfully cobble together and reconstruct the life of his elusive and ambiguous subject and, at the same time, connect the figures in Kafka’s letters and diary notations to the dramatis personae of his fictional opus. 

In Kathi Diamant’s study of Kafka’s last paramour, Dora Diamant, published last year (my review of Kafka’s Last Love appears in the Fall 5763 issue of Jewish Book World), we learn of Kafka’s Zionist inclinations and desire to emigrate to what was then Palestine, his sensitivity to a young girl he meets in a Berlin park who is grieving over her lost doll, and his regret that his knowledge of Judaism was so superficial and limited. Murray incorporates these observations from Diamant’s monograph and thereby further enhances his own excellent telling of the life story of one of the 20th century’s most important writers. 

Kafka will appeal to scholars and laymen alike. Murray succeeds in combining fastidious research with a pleasant writing style.


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