Shattered K.

Kafka Criticism:
Family & Friends

The Loves of Franz Kafka

Nahum N. Glatzer

Schocken, 1986, ISBN 0805208224; Paperback, Out of print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

As its title suggests, The Loves of Franz Kafka has a somewhat particular approach to Kafka biography – but its restricted focus allows the reader to see a different image of Kafka than what is normally shown: not Kafka the writer, not Kafka the philosopher, not Kafka the saint, not Kafka the neurotic; but Kafka the lover.
And yet, this description is perhaps deceptive. When discussing Kafka the lover, it is impossible to ignore these other aspects of his personality, many of which emerge at cross-purposes. The writer was afraid that marriage would get in the way of his work, and tried to maintain most of his relationships through letters. The philosopher’s discussions of love often led into discussions of the eternal, and he was convinced that the only way to “complete” himself as a human being was to marry and start a family. The saint was disgusted with the physical nature of sex, and desired an ascetic union. And the neurotic was perpetually obsessed with what his father would think of his latest girlfriend. Glatzer chooses to reveal these often contradictory elements through numerous selections from Kafka’s letters and diary entries; but as a result of this method, we get very little information on Kafka’s loves before and after they loved Kafka. This lack of breadth is regrettable, as the book doesn’t contain anything you won’t find in a more extensive biography; but since such information is buried under mountains of letters, we can feel grateful that Glatzer took the time to sort it all out. Most wouldn’t have the effort for such a feat of scholarship – unless, of course, it were an act of love. (JN)

Milena: The Tragic Story of Kafka’s Great Love

(1963)

Margarete Buber-Neumann

Translated by Ralph Manheim

Arcade Books, 1997, ISBN 1559703903; Paperback, $10.95 [Browse/Purchase]

Kafka’s first Czech translator, Milena Jesenská was a rebellious Bohemian who carried out an affair with Kafka from 1919-1920 – as usual, primarily through letters. Perhaps the only one of Kafka’s flames that can be considered his intellectual equal, Milena was a writer and a journalist, and her letters to Max Brod are filled with insightful observations about her often-troubled “Frank.” She is the author of Kafka’s only obituary of note – a moving tribute written for the Národny Listy – and towards the end of his life, Kafka entrusted her with his treasured diaries. After Kafka’s death she became a dedicated Marxist, and although a Czech gentile, she was an outspoken advocate of the Jewish plight. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1939, she was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she befriended Margarete Buber-Neumann.
Buber-Neumann was herself a writer, a dedicated Communist, and a critic of totalitarianism – in fact, after running afoul with Stalin, she spent her two years prior to Ravensbrück in a Siberian gulag. Unlike Milena, she survived the camps, spending the rest of her life writing and lecturing about her experiences.
Written in 1963 and intended as a tribute to her friend, Milena has very little to do with Franz Kafka – the seventh chapter alone is devoted to Milena’s relationship with Kafka. But realistically, the best way to sell such a book is to capitalize on his name, and so the original title was Milena–Kafkas Freundin, initially translated as the embarrassing Milena, Mistress to Kafka. Each chapter concludes with Kafka quotation, either from his letters to Milena or from one of his stories.
At the heart of Buber-Neumann’s book is her friendship with Milena, and if one believes everything she writes, then Milena Jesenská was truly one of the greatest persons to have ever walked the earth. Of course, such excursions into hagiography may be expected from a friend, and certainly understandable given the adversity of their surroundings – after all, both women promised each other that if one didn’t survive, the other must live to tell their tale. Exaggerations aside, Milena survived four brutal years in captivity, and was clearly an inspiration to the women around her. Buber-Neumann is also quite adept at describing the various environments that shaped their lives, from the intellectual circles of Prague and Vienna to the dehumanizing conditions of Ravensbrück, where Milena succumbed to an infection in 1944 – three weeks before D-Day.
For a reader looking to know more about Kafka’s relationship with Milena Jesenská, Buber-Neumann’s book makes a fine secondary resource. The best choice remains Kafka’s Letters to Milena, which usually include Milena’s enlightening comments on Kafka, mostly pulled from her letters to Brod (her letters to Kafka have not survived). This is not to say that Milena is not valuable for what it is – a moving account of two extraordinary women reacting, often heroically, to a tragic era in which nothing was certain. (ABR/JN)

Kafka’s Relatives: Their Lives and His Writing

Anthony Northey

Yale University Press, 1991, ISBN 0300045859; Hardcover, Out of print. [Browse/Search for a copy]

This book is about three things: Kafka’s relatives, the relationship of Kafka to his relatives, and the relationship of Kafka’s relatives to Kafka’s writings. It is short, meticulous, and well illustrated. Those with a monomaniacal desire to know everything there is to know about Kafka will enjoy its detail and its organization. Others might get a kick out of the vague but plausible connections promised by Northey’s title. I, however, enjoyed the pictures of the Congo and not much else. Kafka’s Relatives may be a useful book for the purposes of research, but it is certainly not very beautiful. Those with only a mild interest would do better to turn to one of the well-written biographies. (JN)

Kafka’s Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant

Kathi Diamant

Basic Books, 2003, ISBN 0465015506; Hardcover $30.00 [Browse/Purchase]

Das Schloss hopes to have commentary on this book posted here in the future. Until then, here's the blurb from the publisher:

In this gripping literary detective story, Kathi Diamant brings to light the amazing woman who captured Kafka’s heart and kept his literary flame alive for decades. It was Dora Diamant, an independent spirit who fled her Polish Hasidic family to pursue her Zionist dreams, who persuaded Kafka to leave his parents and live with her in Berlin the year before he died. Although many credit (or blame) her for burning many of his papers, as he had requested, she also held onto many others – papers that the Gestapo confiscated and that have yet to be recovered. Dora’s life after Kafka – from her days as a struggling agitprop actress in Berlin to her sojourn in Moscow in the 1930s, from her wartime escape to Great Britain, to her first emotional visit to the new nation of Israel – offers a prism through which we can view the cultural and political history of twentieth-century Europe. Based on original sources and interviews, including never-before-seen material from the Comintern and Gestapo archives and Dora’s newly discovered notebook, diary, and letters, Kafka’s Last Love illuminates the life of a literary “wife” who, like Véra Nabokov and Nora Joyce, is a remarkable woman in her own right.

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Biography – Kafka’s life and times, as well as conversations and anecdotes.


–Jeff Nowak
& Allen B. Ruch
20 January 2004



These letters do nothing but cause anguish, and if they don’t cause any anguish it’s even worse – Send email to Das Schloss’ Jeff Nowak and the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

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