Kafka, the early years

Reiner Stach

Book - 2017

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BIOGRAPHY/Kafka, Franz
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Princeton : Princeton University Press [2017].
Physical Description
xiv, 564 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 531-548) and index.
Main Author
Reiner Stach (author)
Other Authors
Shelley Laura Frisch (translator)
Review by Choice Review

This is the eagerly awaited final volume of Stach's critically acclaimed three-volume magnum opus, a magisterial work. Almost 20 years in the writing, the biography had already become, even before this third volume appeared, the standard, authoritative biography of Franz Kafka. Frisch also translated the first two volumes (CH, Jun'06, 43-5779; CH, Feb'14, 51-3125). Prior to embarking on the biography, Stach worked on the definitive critical edition of Kafka's writings. He is an animated, sensitive writer who gracefully combines captivating storytelling with meticulous research. In this third volume, Stach delves deep into the first part of Kafka's life, from cradle (1883) to the eve of his celebrated, creative breakthrough in 1910, and succeeds as no one has before in illuminating--and dispelling some entrenched myths about--these crucially significant, formative years. Drawing on an unusually wide range of sources, materials, and historical documents--including an important cache of as yet unpublished documents from Max Brod's literary estate, entangled until two years ago in high-profile legal wrangling in Israel--Stach assembled a treasure trove of factual information, new details, and discoveries along with insightful observations about the complex personal circumstances of Kafka's upbringing, education, and early professional career as an insurance lawyer during a tumultuous era of intense intellectual, cultural, socioeconomic, and political foment. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. --Eric Williams, independent scholar

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

German biographer Stach completes his massive three-volume life of the literary giant Franz Kafka (1883-1924) with a long-awaited account of the prodigy's life before 1910, enriched by Frisch's able translation. Kafka's eerie short stories and novels have electrified readers for generations, but Stach's portrait of the young Kafka contradicts the legend of their source in an alienated, detached enigma. Readers meet instead a likable, brilliant young insurance lawyer with, as Stach puts it, abundant perfectionism and self-doubt. Stach explores the Kafka family's complicated relationship to Judaism; Kafka considered converting to Christianity in his youth, but decided not to. He was fond of shop girls and prostitutes, and Stach goes so far as to recount his first sexual experience. The book reveals that Kafka was intrigued by airplanes and the new medium of cinema. Sigmund Freud's bold ideas and Prague's heady pre-WWI intellectual circles, which included the young physicist Albert Einstein, serve as backdrops. The Max Brod archives on which Stach's project depended were litigated for decades. Brod, Kafka's close friend and literary executor, famously refused to destroy the writer's work as instructed and published it instead. Brod's detailed reflections, which dominate much of this final volume, will chiefly interest Kafka scholars, but all Kafka devotees will find this biography's insights deeply fulfilling. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Kirkus Book Review

The final installment in German scholar Stachs magisterial three-part biography (Kafka: The Years of Insight, 2013, etc.), covering, in appropriately Kafkaesque nonsequential fashion, the writers childhood and youth.A preface by Frisch, the superb translator of all three volumes, explains that the peculiar order was dictated by lack of access to the archives of Max Brod, close friend and literary executor, whose extensive diaries concerning the crucial years of Kafkas formative literary efforts only became available recently. Stach makes astute use of this material to assess the complicated relationship between Kafka and the gregarious, ambitious Brod, who could never understand why his talented friend was so reluctant to publish and agonizingly slow to produce. Stachs examination of the years before the men met at university in 1902 suggests a few reasons, most having to do with the pressure to achieve placed on young Franz by his overbearing father, Hermann. This analysis is sometimes swamped by the enormous amount of background on everything from anti-Semitism as a function of rising Czech nationalism to the nature of education in the late 19th-century; these and other highly relevant subjects could have been covered more cogently. However, the abundance of detail enables Stach to paint a vivid picture of the history and culture of Prague, Kafkas hometown and lifelong residence. His portrait of the artist is intimately knowing: Kafka seizes our attention as a man neurotic yet deeply self-aware, frail yet devoted to swimming and hiking, always holding himself at a social remove yet a frequent visitor to Pragues wine bars and coffee shops. Most importantly, the author makes palpable Kafkas perfectionist striving for a prose of surreal clarity, the axe for the frozen sea within us. The inaugural book, on the remarkable half-decade that produced The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and In the Penal Colony, is still the best, but this slightly overstuffed volume completes an indispensable work about a key figure in 20th-century modernism. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.