Nicholas Mur­ray
  • Review
By – August 27, 2012

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.

Stephen H. Gar­rin is a past man­ag­ing edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World and a past assis­tant to the direc­tor of the Jew­ish Book Council.

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