A Human Kafka

Gabriel Josipovici

  • The World of Franz Kafka edited by J.P. Stern
    Weidenfeld, 263 pp, £9.95, January 1981, ISBN 0 297 77845 5

When Kafka died in 1924, not one of his novels had been published. He was known to a small circle – though Janouch’s testimony shows that that circle spread beyond his friends – as the author of a story about a man who turned into a beetle. Brod published The Trial in 1925, and followed it with The Castle (1926), America (1927) and a volume of short fragments and aphorisms, The Great Wall of China (1931). The first work of Kafka’s to be translated into English was The Castle, which the Muirs brought out in 1930. In the twenty years following his death, Kafka came to be known in Europe and America simply as the author of The Trial and The Castle. Those twenty years saw the destruction of the world Kafka had known, and his family with it, and they were years when it might have been thought Europe would have other things on its mind than the assimilation of the strange imaginative world of a Prague Jew writing in German. But it didn’t work like that. The very temper of those years made Kafka seem profoundly relevant and prophetic, and by the end of the war his reputation was as solidly established as that of Eliot or Joyce or Proust.

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[*] Seul Comme Franz Kafka (Calmann-Levy, 1979).