In the Nightmare Kitchen

Rivka Galchen

  • Kafka: The Early Years by Reiner Stach, translated by Shelley Frisch
    Princeton, 564 pp, £27.95, November 2016, ISBN 978 0 691 15198 4

Born in 1928, Maurice Sendak grew up in Brooklyn, the child of Polish immigrants. On the day of Sendak’s bar mitzvah, his father learned that his family in Poland had all been killed. ‘And I was having the big party at the colonial club, the old mansion in Brooklyn,’ Sendak recalled. His mother told him that his father wouldn’t be able to come to the party. So Sendak went in and screamed at his father; he said he had to attend; his father attended. In telling the anecdote in interviews years later, Sendak described looking at his father’s face during the singing of ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ and recognising that he had done something very bad. ‘What did I know? This 13-year-old ersatz man. Trying to handle 15 cheap Parker pens.’

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[*] Rivka Galchen reviewed the first two volumes in the LRB of 4 December 2014.

[†] Kafka’s friend and literary executor Max Brod had willed the papers to his secretary, Esther Hoffe, though he had also specified that they should eventually go to the National Library of Israel’s archives. Brod died in Tel Aviv in 1968. Hoffe passed the papers – literally a suitcase of them – to her two daughters. In 1988, the sisters sold the original manuscript of The Trial to the German Literary Archive for $2 million. The manuscript had been among the papers, whose exact contents had been kept secret; at a later time a lawyer for the Hoffe sisters suggested that the remaining papers could be sold by weight. (‘If we get an agreement, the material will be offered for sale as a single entity, in one package. It will be sold by weight. They’ll say: “There’s a kilogram of papers here, the highest bidder will be able to approach and see what’s there.”’) As has been noted, the legal destiny of Kafka’s papers has a tidy Mandelbrot-set-like relationship to Kafka’s work.