From the award-winning author of The Yemenite Girl comes an enigmatic novel about identity and personal reinvention. Kafka’s Son is both a moving tribute to Franz Kafka and a story of fate and miracles, gathering events that span nearly a century and that are marked by small wonders and grand deceptions.
The story is narrated by Amschl — Curt, to those not calling him to the bima—a documentary filmmaker with a lifelong appreciation for the work of Franz Kafka. When he mentions his affection for Kafka to Jiri, a stranger-cum-guardian whom he encounters in a famous New York synagogue, Jiri, who grew up in Prague around all things Kafka, nudges him to go there.
Amschl, propelled both by impulse and a greater sense of meaning, follows Jiri’s directions and winds up in Czechoslovakia, where he at first ambles about gathering contacts. He meets the caretaker of the famous shul where the golem is said to sleep, a man with a golem’s face, and a fellow who claims to be Kafka’s son. Most importantly, he meets Mr. Klein, a prominent figure from Jiri’s past. Work fades into wonder as he begins to map a Kafka timeline that suggests an alternate history: what if Kafka didn’t die sick and alone as historians suggest? What if he’d had a family? What if he’d managed to survive?
Leviant weaves Jewish folklore into his tale in a darkly lovely manner: the shem laced beneath tongues and animating many, bloodlines drawing people back together after decades-long absences, lions above arks roaring to life to protect those perceived as vulnerable. Amschl struggles to reconcile his various reactions to Kafka’s Prague, alternating between credulity and pragmatism, cynicism and hope. He is motivated by a desire to preserve what he learns for posterity, though his inability to rest with wonder threatens to unravel the fragile world into which he’s been invited.
Narrative twists and the intersection of disparate elements — literary history with mysticism, the Jewish past with family futures — are rendered with skill and intelligence. Kafka’s Son is a novel of uncommon beauty, both sharp in its humor and thick with ethical conundrum. Already a hit abroad, its introduction into American literary circles deserves to make waves.