The Diaries of Franz Kafka

  • Review
By – April 20, 2023

One of the most telling (yet pos­si­bly apoc­ryphal) anec­dotes about the Czech Jew­ish writer Franz Kaf­ka: He sits in a room full of friends and reads one of his ear­ly works aloud. At points he has to stop. He can’t car­ry on. He is laugh­ing too hard.

Suf­fice to say, no one else is laughing.

Replace those friends in the room with — oh, I don’t know, every­one in all his­to­ry — and that’s how, a lot of the time, one feels about Kafka’s sto­ries. They’re weird and freaky and fun­ny. Filled with an under­cur­rent of ulti­mate sad­ness, a bleak and des­o­late sor­row that will make you howl in an emp­ty room for all eter­ni­ty, Kafka’s tales are, fun­da­men­tal­ly, sil­ly and snarky.

At this point, I should con­fess my own bias. I grew up on Kafka’s sto­ries, hav­ing hap­pened upon them as a child after hear­ing things I loved described as kafkaesque. Ever since, I’ve noticed that these bizarre lit­tle sto­ries often have lit­tle end or begin­ning, a sort of Aesop’s fable with­out a moral.

If you’re expect­ing expli­ca­tion of any sort in this diary (ground­ing, analy­sis, behind-the-scenes com­men­tary, real-life tie-ins) you’ll be sore­ly dis­ap­point­ed. These entries — often brief, with­out much expla­na­tion — are lit­tle para­bles of their own, inter­spersed occa­sion­al­ly with jour­nal-style recount­ings of ram­blings, pere­gri­na­tions, and bizarrely casu­al social and roman­tic events. 

What there is, though, is his work. Even in his briefest thoughts — Sto­ry: The Evening Walks. (Inven­tion of quick walk­ing) Intro­duc­to­ry beau­ti­ful dark room”you can grasp at the threads of both the ambi­gu­i­ty and the haunt­ing com­plete­ness that make Kafka’s sto­ries so dis­tinc­tive. Includ­ed also are some of his essays in their orig­i­nal frag­ments, and his fic­tion as it first took form (“The Stok­er” was to become the first chap­ter of Ameri­ka).

When Kaf­ka asked his best friend to burn all his writ­ings, he meant the pub­lished and com­plet­ed ones — as com­plete as Kaf­ka got, any­way. His sto­ries occu­py a lim­i­nal space so close to pure thought that read­ing his ear­ly words feels like either a con­fi­dence or a vio­la­tion. Per­haps it’s both. 

Matthue Roth’s newest book is My First Kaf­ka: Rodents, Run­aways, and Giant Bugs, a pic­ture book, which will be released in June 2013. His young-adult nov­el Losers was just made a spe­cial selec­tion of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion. He lives in Brookyn with his fam­i­ly and keeps a secret diary at www​.matthue​.com.

Discussion Questions