The Glo­ry of Life

Michael Kumpf­muller; Anthea Bell, trans.
  • Review
By – May 4, 2015

Reimag­ined per­sons live in bio­graph­i­cal fic­tion. Read­ers, even those half-knowl­edge­able about Franz Kafka’s life (18831924), will enter this nar­ra­tive soon to real­ize that he is in his final year. Ill, cranky, ego-rid­den, and a genius, he and his Dora Dia­mant piece togeth­er an aber­rant, touch­ing love affair. She is twen­ty-five years old; he is forty. She works at a Jew­ish People’s Home, he writes in Ger­man. They live in a dis­as­trous time, and a shud­der­ing place.

The prud­ery and rec­ti­tude of Jew­ish life as it exist­ed in Kafka’s social milieu impact near­ly every deci­sion and choice he makes. Embed­ded in scat­tered, iso­lat­ed sen­tences, the near­ly implau­si­ble real­i­ties of Judaism and the dai­ly hyper­in­fla­tion ram­pant in the Weimar Repub­lic and in Czecho­slo­va­kia enter into and influ­ence the sto­ry. When he asks for mon­ey, for exam­ple, Franz’s fam­i­ly sends him a basic sup­port check for 31 bil­lion Reich­marks; from his deposit to avail­abil­i­ty, these funds lost one-third of their val­ue. Coal costs him as much as rent.

Against this back­drop, we con­sid­er Kaf­ka as a Jew­ish writer — the Jew­ish read­er learns he cel­e­brates Sab­bath for the first time under the care of Dora. One can only despair over his suf­fer­ing and tem­pera­men­tal con­tra­dic­tions — he is begin­ning to feel affec­tion, she cooks for him over can­dle ends, using the phone tor­tures him, his body tem­per­a­ture ris­es and falls, as do his demands and vagaries. Wispy descrip­tions of their sex­u­al con­tact flit through the pages.

The pity of it all — the dreams, the help­less­ness, the cre­ative bursts, the car­ing, ignor­ing — are in a world of for­ev­er. But Kafka’s writ­ing, nev­er direct­ly quot­ed here, reminds us again of the pre­science of Kafka’s anx­i­ety about the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry in Europe.

With the dev­il not in the details, this book is above all, read to be felt.

Relat­ed Content:

Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

Discussion Questions